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Authors: Shannon Stacey

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary

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BOOK: Alone With You
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Jake had to go back to his truck to get the ring of keys Kevin had given him and one of his duffels. Then he went up the stairs on the back of the building to his new home.

Kevin had said the apartment over the restaurant space was a little outdated. What he hadn’t mentioned was how damn
brown
it was. Really fake wood paneling on the walls. Brown rug. The furniture was big and bulky, with a lot of exposed wood and brown plaid cushions.

The lack of color made Jake think of Darcy. Her apartment was the kind of place that made a person feel better and...Darcy.

“Shit...shit...shit...” he muttered, shoving his hand into the front pocket of his muddy, wet jeans.

He pulled out a soggy ball of paper with a black blur where her name and phone number used to be. And he hadn’t given her his.

Well...shit.

Six weeks later


D
ARCY
,
CAN
I
TALK
TO
YOU
a minute in my office?”

“Uh, sure.” Her boss sounded serious, which made her stomach clench. Not that Kevin Kowalski wasn’t always serious about his business, but he was a friendly, laid-back kind of guy and she loved working at his busy sports bar.

She tried to brace herself for the worst, but she knew the tears would come if he let her go. The jerk she’d thought might actually be her Prince Charming had never called, and her best friend and trivia partner was in the process of moving to Rhode Island because her husband got a new job. Bad news came in threes, and she prayed getting fired wasn’t the icing on the bad luck cupcake.

“So you know I’m opening another restaurant up north,” he said when they were seated in his office, referring to the northern part of the state. She nodded, since she’d been around during many conversations Kevin had had with Paulie about his plans to open another bar in prime snowmobiling real estate. “J.P., my business partner, has been up there handling the renovations and refitting the kitchen and business crap. Generic restaurant business.”

She nodded again, since she knew that, too. Kevin went up occasionally to check on the progress, but because of Beth and Lily, he didn’t like to be away too much.

“We’ve reached a point where we need to start going beyond the generic and putting the Jasper’s stamp on it. Menus and policies and how to set things up for the best work flow and stuff. That’s not really J.P.’s thing. I don’t want to be away that long and I can’t really spare Paulie.”

Darcy wasn’t really sure what he was asking of her, but he didn’t seem to be giving her the boot. That was the important thing.

“I had planned to hire a consultant specializing in restaurants to work alongside him, but I want it to be more personal than that. I want the two places to really share a common feel, you know?”

She nodded again, starting to feel like a bobble-head.

“So.” He leaned back in his chair and laced his hands behind his head. “I guess the question is whether or not you’d be willing to go stay up north for a few weeks or maybe more and help launch Jasper’s Pub.”

It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him he was crazy. She couldn’t just go away for a month. Sure, she didn’t have any pets and her neighbor could water the plants, but to just pack up and head almost to the Canadian border?

Then he told her how much he was willing to pay her, and the decision got a lot easier.

* * *

I
T
WAS
ALMOST
TWO
WEEKS
before they’d trained a temp to take over her hours at Jasper’s Bar & Grille, and Darcy had taken care of everything that needed to be done in preparation for a month or more away from home. She even put new tires on her car in anticipation of more snow than she was used to driving in. Once she’d done Christmas and New Year’s Eve with her family, it was time to hit the road.

The building wasn’t hard to find, since the only other things around were a convenience store with gas pumps, an auto parts store, a hardware store, a very expensive-looking bed-and-breakfast and—just barely in view—a couple of long, one-story motels. It didn’t look like a mecca of any sort, but Kevin had assured her it was a major crossroads on the snowmobile system.

Darcy had her choice of spots in the massive parking lot, which was designed to accommodate vehicles and snowmobiles, including trucks pulling big sled trailers. Right now it was empty. She decided to return for her bags after she got the lay of the land, got out of the car and took a deep breath. This was going to be weird.

Apparently there was a two-bedroom apartment over the restaurant and she was going to be roommates with J. P. Holland. As if this job Kevin was trusting her with wasn’t enough stress, she was going to live with a man she didn’t know. Her boss had sworn J.P. would be nothing but professional, and if it really didn’t work out, he’d put her up in one of the motels for the duration, but her practical nature shied away from wasting the money. They were adults who’d be working together.

Besides, she wasn’t a big fan of men at the moment. Even though she’d tried to prepare herself for the probability, it had hurt when Jake didn’t call.

The back door to the restaurant was locked. So was the side entrance and the front door. And a quick glance at the “no service” on her cell phone killed any hope of calling the cell number Kevin had given her for J. P. Holland. Even if she drove over to the gas station and begged the use of their landline, he probably didn’t have a signal, either.

Even though it was probably an exercise in futility, Darcy returned to the back of the building and went up the exterior stairs to what she assumed was the apartment entrance. To her
surprise, the doorknob turned in her hand and she stepped inside, realizing belatedly she probably should have knocked.

She found herself in a very drab brown apartment improved drastically by the tan expanse of naked male back in the middle of the living room. The steam curling from the bathroom and the fact that he was scrubbing his head with a towel cued her in to the fact he was fresh out of the shower. That and the droplet of water she watched make its way from the back of his neck, down over the muscles of his back to the waistband of his jeans. And thank goodness for the jeans because that body wrapped in nothing but a towel might have made her drool.

“Excuse me,” she forced herself to say.

The man spun around, lowering the towel, and Darcy’s stomach dropped. Her brain couldn’t quite grasp what was going on, but her body certainly recognized him, and only shock kept her from running back the way she’d came.

Jake stared at her for a few seconds, probably as confused as she was. “Darcy?”

“What are you doing here?”

He stared at her, then frowned. “What are
you
doing here?”

“I asked you first.”

“I’m supposed to be here.”

“So am I.” Darcy’s stomach knotted as she started putting the pieces together. “Oh, God. Please tell me you’re not J.P.”

“Only to Kevin. Back in the day, he knew three Jakes, so he called us by our first and middle initials—J.P., J.D. and J.R.—and I guess it stuck. Not a fan, but he never cared.” After a short pause, he muttered a curse. “You work for Kevin.”

“I’ve worked at Jasper’s for years. Paulie and I were there before he bought it.” Her voice sounded surprisingly normal considering what she really wanted to do was plant her knee in his balls before making a grand exit.

“So you’re here to help me launch Jasper’s Pub.”

Really? That’s what he wanted to talk about? He’d held her hand and made love to her and kissed her goodbye with promises of a phone call and he wanted to talk about work. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

She was going to get back in her car and drive back to Concord. The three-hour trip would give her plenty of time to come up with an excuse to give Kevin about why she couldn’t do him this favor, after all. Maybe she could tell him she startled a Dumpster-diving bear and she was too traumatized by the encounter to stay in bear country.

Jake blew out a hard breath and tossed the towel onto the counter. “We can make this work.”

Darcy sighed. She was a nice person, really. People described her as cheerful and happy and a few of the regulars called her Sunshine. But under the sunny personality, she had a really low tolerance for bullshit. And she’d already had a shovelful from Jake Holland.

“I don’t think so.” She turned around and went back down the stairs.

* * *

J
AKE
SHOVED
HIS
BARE
FEET
into his boots before he went after Darcy, but he didn’t take the time to grab a shirt or coat. She was halfway across the parking lot before he caught up to her. “Darcy, wait. Please?”

He couldn’t let her go. After weeks of thinking about her and beating himself up for not putting her number in his phone right away, he couldn’t let her leave without trying to explain. Upstairs, his mind had been trying to work out the business implications of her arrival, but right now he was just a man trying to catch the woman who had slipped through his fingers once already.

“I’ll tell Kevin I’m afraid of bears,” she said in a flat voice, reaching for the door handle of her car. “He doesn’t need to know we’d met before.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t call you.”

That stopped her. “Whatever. We both knew you weren’t going to call.”

That pissed him off. He wasn’t that kind of guy, and maybe she didn’t have any way of knowing that, but a little benefit of the doubt wouldn’t hurt. “My jeans got wet and the ink ran.”

“Funny how often that happens to guys.”

“I swear, Darcy. I wanted to leave a message at the bar where we met, but I couldn’t remember the name of the place. I even called the car garage where I saw the trivia night flyer to get the name or number off it, but they’d thrown it away. I didn’t know how else to find you.”

“You haven’t been back in the city since then?”

“I’ve only managed to get down there once, since the contractors screwed up the HVAC plans and we had to scramble. I drove around a little, but a lot of those streets look the same and all the buildings look the same and I couldn’t find the bar.”

She wasn’t allowing herself to believe him. He could see it on her face. “Look, Jake, it doesn’t matter if you were going to call or not. We can’t work together.”

“Why not? If Kevin sent you, it means you’re damn good at what you do. I’m damn good at what I do. There’s no reason we can’t open Jasper’s Pub together by February.”

“I thought being roommates with a man I’d never met would be weird.” She shoved her hands in her coat pocket. “This is worse, I think.”

Jake wished he had a coat to shove his hands into. When it was cold enough to see your breath when you talked, shirtless wasn’t a great fashion choice. “I’m not going to lie to you. You being here feels like a second chance to me, but—”

She shook her head, but he pushed on, anyway. “
But
this restaurant and my partnership with Kevin are important to me. Important enough so I can set aside any personal stuff and keep it professional.”

“You look cold.”

“I was, but the numbness is setting in now, so it’s not so bad.”

“You should go inside.”

“Kevin wants you in his corner on this project, Darcy.”

“I know he does, and trust me, that matters.” She was wavering.

“Let’s try it for a couple of days and see how it goes. If you still want to leave, you can tell Kevin I’m an asshole and I’ll take the heat for it.”

“I’m not here just because Kevin’s a good boss and he asked me. It’s an interesting opportunity and I was excited about it.”

“It’s still an interesting, exciting opportunity.”

When she sighed, blowing out a frosty cloud, relief seeped through his frozen veins. She was going to stay long enough for him to make things work professionally. Personally? That could come later. Especially since it would probably be at least a week before his body thawed enough to even think about misbehaving.

“I’ll stay. But if it’s too awkward, I’m going to move to the motel and waste your money. If it’s still awkward after that, I’m leaving.”

“We’ll be working too hard for awkwardness.”

“I’ll bring up my bags.”

Because he was raised right, Jake willed the impending hypothermia away and helped her carry up her luggage, but he threw on a thermal shirt and a flannel shirt
and
his coat before he went back down for the boxes and bags she had crammed in her trunk.

On his third trip up, he realized both bedroom doors were closed and she was hovering over the growing pile of her belongings as if she wasn’t sure what to do with them. “I was greedy and took the room with the queen bed, but we can switch if you want.”

“Are they both as brown as the living room?”

“Yeah.”

“Then it doesn’t matter.”

“Then that room’s yours,” he said, pointing to the door on the left. “At some point down the road we’ll redo this apartment, but right now all the time and money are going into the pub’s launch.”

She shrugged, picking up a suitcase to bring into her room. “Doesn’t matter to me. I won’t be here after the launch.”

“I’m not sure what I’ll be doing. It’s open-ended right now. After it opens, we might turn it over to a manager. But if I like it here, I might stay.”

“Where did you come from?”

“Connecticut. But I’m a Red Sox fan, not Yankees. Connecticut goes both ways, but I was born in Mass.”

It wasn’t until she turned and glared at him that he realized that while they’d been talking, he’d followed her into her bedroom. He took a couple of big steps backward, until he was on the living room side of the doorway.

“This space is mine and you absolutely are not allowed in here,” she said firmly. “I’m here to work, Jake. Nothing more.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Don’t call me ma’am.”

“Mistress?” Now, there was a word he liked. He let his gaze wander down the body his hands itched to touch again, dressing her up in his mind.

BOOK: Alone With You
11.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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