Return of the Last McKenna (Harlequin Romance) (10 page)

BOOK: Return of the Last McKenna (Harlequin Romance)
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“You’ll go on, and put one foot in front of the other. Because
he would want that.”

She raised her gaze to Brody’s. Damn. This man read her like a
book. “He would.”

“He’d want you to keep running this shop and keep your family’s
legacy going. He’d want you to go look at that location this afternoon, and move
toward the future. He wouldn’t want you to stand around and cry for him.”

“You talk like you know him.” She swiped at her face. “That’s
exactly what Andrew would say. Actually, he’d say it far more direct and with
far more colorful language.” She laughed, and the sorrow that had gripped her
began to ease a bit. “I wish you had met him. He was an amazing man.”

“I feel like I have met him,” Brody said quietly. “He’s in
every part of this shop and everything you do and…it’s like he’s here with
us.”

“It is.” She bit her lip and nodded. “Thank you for lunch, for
being here, for cheering me up.”

“Kate—” The clock on the wall chimed quarter to the hour, at
the same time Brody’s cell phone began to vibrate. “Damn. My time’s up. I have
to get back to the office for the last couple of appointments.” He pressed a
kiss to her lips, then cupped her jaw. “I’ll be back. And we’ll talk then,
okay?”

“I can’t wait.” And as she watched Brody McKenna leave, Kate
thought there was nothing closer to the truth than that.

She was beginning to fall for the doctor, and fall hard.

CHAPTER SEVEN

O
NE
hour later, true to his word, Brody returned to the shop. The sight of
him caused a hitch in Kate’s breath. “You’re on time,” she said. “Quite
impressive for a doctor.”

He chuckled. “That’s a pet peeve of mine. I hate to be late,
for anything, and I work hard to make sure my practice runs on time. Makes for
happier patients—”

“And a happier doctor.”

“That, too.” He swung his car keys around his finger. “You
ready? I thought I’d drive, so you could concentrate on the building and
neighborhood.”

Thoughtful. Nice. Again. Did the man like her, or just see a
pity case?

And why did she keep wondering about that?

“I won’t turn that offer down.” She tucked her apron behind the
counter then headed out of the shop behind him, locking the door as she left. At
the curb, Brody opened the passenger side door of an older Jeep, its dark green
paint a little worse for wear. “What, no Mercedes?”

“I told you. I’m not the typical doctor. This is the car that
got me through my college years, and I’ve had it so long, it’s part of the
family.” He shrugged. “Whether I can afford a Mercedes or not isn’t the point. I
don’t need a sixty thousand dollar piece of metal to prove I’m successful. I’d
rather let my patients speak to that.”

“You are different,” she said. “In a good way.” She got into
the Jeep, and waited while Brody came around to the driver’s side. Every time
Kate thought she had him pigeonholed, he added another dimension to his
character. Maybe she’d misjudged him. Seen him through jaded eyes. Every minute
she spent with him, Brody McKenna came closer to the kind of man she thought
didn’t exist.

Still, she suspected Brody McKenna kept a part of himself back.
She wasn’t sure what it was, or why he was keeping himself distanced from her,
but she knew better than to try to force a bridge when there was only a rope
across the river between them. If he was interested, he’d open up, and if he
didn’t…

She didn’t need to fall for a mystery. Her mother had made that
mistake, and she refused to do the same.

“So, tell me about this property.” Brody put the Jeep in gear—a
stick shift, which impressed Kate a little more—and pulled away from the
curb.

“It’s a thousand square feet, which is pretty much the same
size I have now, and it’s on a corner lot, beside a coffee shop and a florist.
Busy location, with a lot of foot traffic.”

“Sounds perfect. And like the kind of location that would let
you do some partnering and cross-marketing with your neighbors.” He flashed her
a grin. “Sometimes I listened when my grandparents talked about work.”

Kate laughed. “We’ll see. I’ve looked at it online, and talked
to the realtor a few weeks back, but this is my first in-person visit. Sometimes
what you get in person isn’t as good as the advertisement.”

“Sort of like online dating, huh?”

“Speaking from personal experience, Doctor?” Curiosity about
Brody’s dating past sparked inside her. What had kept such an eligible, smart,
handsome man from marrying? Was he really that gun-shy or had he been burned
before, like her?

“Nope, can’t say I’ve ever tried that,” he said. “I’m
old-fashioned. I like to meet people, see if there’s a connection, and then take
the next step.”

“You said you came close to settling down before. What happened
to that connection?”

Brody sighed. “Melissa and I got engaged right out of college,
then I went on my first medical mission trip, and she broke up with me while I
was gone.”

“She did? Why?”

“She expected that being a doctor’s wife meant shopping on
Fifth Avenue and vacationing in Italy, not visiting third world countries to
treat malaria and set broken bones. And, I was distant, and didn’t put in the
time I should have with the relationship.” He sighed. “I tried to fix things,
but I was too late.”

“And that burned you forever on the idea of love?”

“That and…a few other things. I guess at a certain point, I
gave up on finding someone who shared my goals.”

She chuckled. “Now you sound like me. Two jaded souls. Destined
for…”

“What?” he asked.

“I don’t know. You tell me.”

He raised and lowered a shoulder, a grin playing on his lips.
“Last I checked, psychic abilities weren’t on my résumé.”

She laughed. “No fair. You can’t go all mysterious on me.”

“Me? Mysterious? I’m as easy to read as a prescription.”

That made her laugh even harder. “Written in a doctor’s
handwriting? That makes it illegible.”

“I never said figuring me out would be easy.” He grinned.

“Oh, I agree. You are far from easy to decipher. You’re a
Sphinx with a stethoscope.” Kate sat back against the seat, wondering about this
other side of her that being around Brody encouraged. She didn’t trade flirty
repartee with men. She worked hard, kept her nose to the grindstone, and yes
came up for air once in a while to go on a date. But never had she met a man who
made her exchange…

Banter.

Or met a man who made her blush like a schoolgirl. A man who
made butterflies flutter in her stomach. A man who made her begin to dream again
of things she’d given up on long ago. Not like this, she hadn’t. A part of her
threw up a huge Caution side while another part craved more.

The whole ride to Weymouth went like that, the two of them
exchanging barbs, always with a hint of flirting on the side. The sun shone
bright, and Brody had the windows down, letting in a nice fresh breeze. When
they turned off on the Route 18 exit, disappointment filled Kate as they neared
their destination.

A few minutes later—and after getting turned around once—they
pulled in front of the location, a cute little storefront smack dab in a part of
Weymouth dubbed Columbian Square. From the historic homes bordering the square
to the old style storefronts, Kate could see vestiges of Weymouth’s historic
roots. Across the street from the shop sat the Cameo Theater, an old-style movie
house that harkened back to the days of Model T cars. “Quaint, isn’t it?”

“It looks perfect for a second Nora’s.” Brody came around and
opened her door then the two of them headed for the storefront. People walked
along the sidewalk, popping in and out of shops, chatting and enjoying the warm
fall day. Traffic slowed at the stop signs, drivers casting quick glances at the
shop wares before continuing on their way.

A wiry dark-haired man came hustling down the street, a packet
of papers under one arm, a briefcase in the opposite hand. He extended his free
hand as he came upon Kate and Brody. “Hello, hello. You must be Miss…Spencer?
Here about the building?”

“Kate Spencer.” She shook with the other man. “Owner of Nora’s
Sweet Shop in Newton. Thank you for meeting me today.”

“No problem.” He turned to Brody and shook. “I’m Bill Taylor.”
He turned and unlocked the door, then led them inside. “Nora’s Sweet Shop, you
said? Sounds like just the thing for our little community. We have lots of shops
here that can compliment a bakery. And with the hospital around the corner,
there’s always a demand for gift baskets and the like.”

As Bill talked about square footage and lighting, Kate took the
time to look around, to imagine a counter here, a display there. The shop had
housed a deli before, and the kitchen would need minimal changes to meet Kate’s
needs. All in all, the shop had the space and equipment to house another Nora’s,
not to mention a prime location.

“Looks perfect,” Brody said to Kate. “Not that I’m an expert in
these kinds of things, but it sure seems ideal to me.”

“It is perfect. Right town, right space, right location.”

“And right for you now?” Bill asked, already reaching into his
stash of papers for an offer sheet.

Kate looked around. Nerves threatened to choke her. Brody had
told her to be proactive, but now that the moment to take that step forward had
arrived, she stalled. “I, um, I don’t know. I need some time to think about it.”
She thanked Bill for his time, promised to call the realtor with any other
questions, then headed out to the car. Brody opened her door, then climbed in
the driver’s seat.

“Why didn’t you make an offer?” he asked. “I thought you said
that place was perfect.”

“I just don’t think now is the right time to be adding
locations.” She watched the storefront grow smaller as the Jeep headed down the
street. A mixture of disappointment and relief washed over her. Disappointment
that she’d let the location go. Relief that she didn’t have to tackle a major
task like a second location. Maybe next month. Or the month after. Maybe she’d
wait till spring when the weather improved, and people spent more time strolling
the streets. Valid reasons? Or stall tactics?

“Do you want to talk about it?” Brody asked.

No, she didn’t, but Brody had driven her here and deserved an
answer. Maybe if she got her reservations out on the table, the worries would
ease.

“It’s scary to take that next step, you know?” she said. “And
I’m just not sure that I’m ready for it. I mean, adding a second location splits
me in two, and I have my hands full with the Newton location as it is.”

“Your assistant will be back soon, and you talked about hiring
others, so that will free up your time,” he pointed out. “I agree that the next
step is scary as hell. You could fail, or you could succeed. But you won’t know
either unless you try.”

She watched the streets of Weymouth pass by outside the window.
Neat houses in neat rows, flanked by businesses on either side. A bustling,
growing community, one that seemed much like Newton. One that could support a
Nora’s Sweet Shop, if she dared to make the attempt.

Fail…or succeed. Either prospect sent a shiver of worry down
her spine. She turned to Brody. “How did you do it?”

Brody flipped on the directional, then merged onto the
interstate. His gaze remained on the road, his hand shifting the gear as they
accelerated and entered the fray of automobiles. “Do what?”

“Take those risks, fly to other cities, other countries, and
step into a strange environment? How did you know it would work out?”

“I didn’t. I had to trust in my skills as a doctor. And
sometimes, I succeeded. And sometimes,” he let out a long, low breath, “I
failed.”

“That’s what I’m most afraid of, I guess. Andrew was the risk
taker, the one who would go all in on everything from poker to tic-tac-toe.” She
fiddled with the strap on her purse. Andrew had traveled the world, leapt out of
airplanes, climbed mountains. While all her life, Kate had stayed in the same
town, worked in the same business, seen the same people, baked the same things.
“I know he’d want me to do it, but…”

“You’re afraid of letting him down.”

“Yeah.” She sighed. “And myself. And my grandmother. And all
those people who love Nora’s Sweet Shop.”

“I can relate to that. When someone gives you a huge
responsibility, it can be scary. You worry about whether you are up to the task.
Whether you’ll fulfill their wishes, the way they wanted. Whether…you’re doing
the right thing at all.” Little traffic filled the highway, few people traveling
in or out of the city on a fall Saturday afternoon. “Maybe you should wait then.
Give it a little time.”

“Maybe.” Or maybe she should throw caution to the wind, as
Andrew had done, and just go for it. Leap off the edge and trust the winds to
carry her.

As the miles clicked by and the city drew closer, Kate realized
she didn’t want the day to end. Brody had been good company, and joking with him
on the way out here had brightened her day, eased the tension in her shoulders.
Whenever she spent time with him, he had the same effect. He made her forget,
made her think about the day ahead, rather than the past.

She liked him, as a friend, and as something more, something
she wanted to explore, taste. She wondered about the things he kept to himself,
wondered how it fit with the man she’d gotten to know. “I’m not sure what your
plan is for today, but if you’re free, I’d like to invite you over for dinner.
Nothing too fancy, because I’m not exactly cook of the year, but it’ll be
edible, I promise.”

“I’ve tasted your cupcakes. You can definitely cook.”

“Bake, not cook. They’re two different sciences. I’m great with
things that are exact and precise, but with cooking, a lot of it is a pinch of
this, a dash of that, and it gets me all flustered.” She shook her head. “Don’t
even ask me about the Thanksgiving turkey debacle.”

He laughed. “Now that I’d like to see. You flustered.”

“You’ll see that, and the parts of my life that aren’t so
organized.” Inviting him over meant opening a door to herself. She hadn’t done
that in a long, long time. She thought of her brother, and how he approached his
days with a what’s-the-worst-that-could-happen attitude, and decided she’d take
a cue from Andrew, and dance a little closer to the edge of danger.

“You’ll be shattering my image of you as the perfect woman, you
know,” Brody said.

She pivoted in her seat. “You think I’m the perfect woman?”

He turned toward her, but his eyes remained unreadable behind
dark sunglasses. “I think you’re pretty damned amazing.”

Her face heated, and a smile winged across her face. Her heart
skipped, as if she’d been rocketed back to middle school and the cute boy in
math class had dropped a note on her desk. “Amazing, huh? You’re not so bad
yourself, Doctor.”

“Well, there’s a rousing endorsement.” He laughed. “I’ll have
to add that to my online dating profile.”

She gave him a coy smile. “I can’t be throwing out compliments
left and right at you. You could get a swelled head.”

“I doubt that’s going to happen. I have my brothers to remind
me that I can still be a dork sometimes.”

“You? A dork? I don’t think so.” She took in the sharp line of
his jaw, his tousled dark hair, his defined, strong hands. The last word she’d
use to describe Brody was
dork.
Sexy, mysterious,
intriguing, tempting…

BOOK: Return of the Last McKenna (Harlequin Romance)
13.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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