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Nate parked his car in front of Can Buy Me Love. It was almost seven-thirty. Officially, the shop closed over an hour ago, but there were still lights on in the store. There was also a black pickup truck parked along the side of the shop. He recognized that truck. It belonged to Tom Donalan.
His gut clenched. An odd reaction, really. Lauren and her ex had a friendly relationship. There was no reason Tom shouldn’t be here. But, there was no reason he should be here, either.
He glanced at the single long stemmed red rose and the take out basket from The Harbor House lying on the passenger seat of his car. He’d ordered the same thing they’d had on their date—the salmon with the house vegetables for her, and a surf and turf for him. He’d also bought a bottle of the Pinot Noir, along with two big slabs of cheesecake. He told the hostess the take out was for a special occasion and she’d presented him with a wicker basket, complete with top of the line disposable plates, silver ware, tablecloth and even candles.
He could keep it all in the car. He could walk into the shop and act causal like he’d just stopped by to say hello. And if for some reason things didn’t seem…right, he wouldn’t make an ass of himself.
But his gut kept telling him that Lanie was wrong. Lauren wouldn’t lie to him. Of course, his gut had also told him that proposing to Jessica was a good thing. But Lauren wasn’t Jessica.
The hell with it. He scooped up the rose and the basket of food. As long as there wasn’t someone around taping him for the benefit of YouTube, he could survive whatever happened tonight.
He opened the shop door. A bell above the entrance chimed. Laughter, hers, mixed with a deeper, masculine laugh, drifted from somewhere in the back of the store. His ears began to buzz. He gripped the rose a little too tightly, causing a thorn to nick his finger.
“Sorry! We’re closed!” he heard Lauren shout. She walked out to the front of the shop with a grin on her face and her cheeks flushed. She had on a dress he’d seen her wear to work before, a short sleeved blue thing that brought out the color of her eyes. But she had on flip flops and her hair was pulled back in a headband, like she’d dressed down to do physical work. There was a smudge of dirt on her nose. She startled when she saw him. “Nate. What are you doing here?”
“I came to bring you dinner. And this.” He thrust the flower at her. “Happy birthday.”
“Oh!” She glanced inside the basket. “You brought all this for me? This is incredible.” She noticed the blood on his finger and grabbed a Kleenex from a box she kept on the check-out counter, then pressed it against his finger to staunch the trickle. She looked surprised, but happy. Nate had a sudden urge to pick her up, lay her across the counter and—
“Hi, Nate,” Henry said cheerfully. He and Tom came walking out of the back storeroom. Both of them had dust in their hair, like they’d been working, too. Henry took in the rose and the basket and his face went blank.
Tom shook his hand. “Hey, man. Good to see you.” Tom’s gaze was more discreet than his son’s, but he, too, was checking out the situation with the flower and the food.
Lauren glanced between all three males, and smiled. “Tom and Henry came by with some balloons for my birthday,” she explained to Nate. “Unfortunately for them, I roped them into moving some stuff out of the storeroom.”
“We wanted to take her out for dinner, but Mom says she has too much work to do to eat,” Henry said. It was subtly put, but a message, nonetheless.
Lauren put her arm around her son’s shoulder. “This guy already surprised me this morning with breakfast. Pancakes, bacon, eggs, fresh squeezed orange juice. All my favorites.”
“Ah. Very nice,” Nate said.
“Do you need me to walk Hector tomorrow morning?” Henry asked. “Because I can if you do. I just need to do it early, on account of Dad and me going fishing.”
“As a matter of fact, I have Hector covered for the morning, so, no worries.”
“Okay, cool,” Henry said, his tone neither friendly nor unfriendly. He pointed to the wicker basket. “What’s in there?”
“Just some seafood. And cheesecake,” Nate said.
“Mom likes key-lime pie better than cheesecake,” Henry said.
Lauren and Tom exchanged a look. She gave Tom some kind of unspoken signal with her eyebrows. He hesitated a moment, then went into action. “Hey, son, why don’t we go grab that pizza we talked about and let your mom get back to work?”
“On her birthday?” Henry said.
Lauren hugged her son. “Oh, baby, you’ve already done so much. And I love my balloons. Go on with your dad. Remember, we’re officially celebrating tomorrow with dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s.”
“Okay,” Henry said reluctantly. “But don’t forget to bring your balloons home.”
“I won’t,” Lauren promised.
Henry gave Nate a parting look that said the jury was still out on whether or not he approved of them. Lauren waited till they were out the door, then she locked it and flipped the sign to read CLOSED.
She walked over and reached up to kiss him on the cheek. “I love my son to pieces, but I thought they’d never leave.”
“So, it’s okay that I came by? Or, should I leave, too?” Just because she seemed happy to see him didn’t mean she wanted him to stay. He knew how important this maternity clothing line was to her and how much work she’d already put into it. Her display at the Spring Into Summer festival could be a big opportunity for her.
“Okay? Let’s see,” she teased, “You just brought me a rose and dinner. Yeah, I’d say that’s okay.”
“What about Henry? I didn’t think you wanted him to know about us.”
“I don’t think he’ll have to go to therapy just because you came by with dinner. And a little break right now isn’t going to kill me.”
“I could stay and help,” he offered. “Think of it as my present to you.”
“My present, huh?” She glanced at the locked door and Nate could have sworn her cheeks went pink. “As a matter of fact, I was lying in bed last night thinking of another present you could give me. But, you’ve already brought me so much. Dinner and a rose. I don’t want you to think I’m being too…greedy.”
Flushed skin, bright eyes, and a huskiness in her voice that hadn’t been there before. All three signs added up to only one logical conclusion. Lauren wanted him.
Page Count: 309 pages
Publisher: TKA Distribution (May 19, 2015)
Lauren Donalan was once Whispering Bay’s golden girl—the rich, bubbly blonde cheerleader who married the high school football star. When her mediocre marriage falls apart, she returns home and starts a vintage clothing business, determined to prove she’s more than just a pretty face with a trust fund.
Nate Miller may have been a nerd in high school, but now he has a beautiful girlfriend and is set to take over Doc Morrison’s medical practice. Still, the good folks of Whispering Bay find his no-nonsense approach more than a little unsettling, leaving his future in town a great big question mark. And things go even further downhill when his well-intentioned marriage proposal goes awry.
Lauren doesn’t need a man to complete her, yet when she finds herself set up on a date with Nate, she can’t help but notice how sexy and confident he is. In fact, every time the former introvert kisses her, she sees fireworks. But, only a big love will make Lauren change her mind about commitment. As Nate attempts to win Lauren over, a real estate co-op threatens Lauren’s business—and Nate’s ex still has a thing or two to say about their previous relationship. Now Lauren has to decide to go big or go home, in business, as well as in love.
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