The coffee shop had worked me like a mad woman today. With the Christmas holidays approaching in the mall there wasn’t even time for a break. I needed the longer hours but my feet were killing me and I was glad it was close to closing time. All I wanted to do tonight was sink into a hot bath and relax. Glancing up at the clock I sighed in relief noticing there was only half an hour left.
“Miss Burns?” A deep, masculine voice pulled my attention to a handsome, well-groomed man standing at the front counter. I’d seen attractive men before obviously, but none that took my breath away with a single look before.
“I’m Laura, how can I help you?” My eyes clashed with his deep blue depths, and I felt my stomach clench in some strange sensation that made my heart race.
“Taylor Ross.” His full lips lifted in a confident smile and he extended a manicured hand over the counter.
The strange butterflies filling my stomach at his smile left me staring at him in confusion before I accepted his greeting. The feel of his warm palm against mine forced a sigh from my lips and my face flooded with color.
His face seemed vaguely familiar, but I knew if I’d met this man before I wouldn’t have forgotten. “I’m sorry, but have we met?” Snapping out of fantasy land I gave my libido a mental kick.
“My father is Leonard Ross.” His brow lifted and he seemed to be searching my face for some recognition.
With a smile I realized this was Lenny’s son. Lenny was one of my favorite customers and a regular. I hadn’t seen him in a few weeks and I missed his wisdom.
“Lenny is such a sweetheart.” My smiled broadened as I thought about all the advice he’d offered me this year. “How’s he doing? This place hasn’t been the same without him.”
Lenny helped me not panic when my mother had run off with her newest attraction a few months ago. He reminded me that I had the inner strength to rise above any challenge. She’d taken everything from the house but at least hadn’t depleted my savings account. I had a little put back for my college education but thanks to her dropping the ball on her part of the rent, it forced me to realize I would have to put off my dreams for another year while I recouped.
Lenny had offered me money to help offset some of my losses but I couldn’t take advantage of our friendship that way. He was a nice old man but I was too proud and wouldn’t take his charity. Living with a mother who used people left and right, I refused to accept handouts.
“I’d like to talk to you about that. Privately.” His handsome face took on a stern expression and my smile vanished.
“Um. Okay. I’ll be closing up soon?” I had no idea what he could need to talk to me about, but I respected Lenny enough to show his son a little common courtesy.
“I’ll wait then.” He gave a curt nod of his head, then walked over to sit down at one of the tables.
The crowd was thinning out as closing time for the mall approached and I started doing my nightly prep work for closing. Working here was relatively easy and the cleanup didn’t take long. With everything stocked for tomorrows opening, I cashed out the drawer and walked the nightly receipts and profit back to the manager’s office.
My feet were dragging and I wanted to get home quickly. I hoped whatever Lenny’s son had to speak with me about wouldn’t take long. Granted he was a nice visual distraction but I didn’t have time in my life to consider men in that way.
I grabbed my purse from under the counter and walked over to his table. “I need to lock up. Maybe we can talk on my way out?” Trying not to be rude I offered a tentative smile. Having a conversation at my place of employment after hours wasn’t something upper management approved of. The owners were decent people but they expected all their employees to do the job they were paid for and reminded us often that we worked for them.
“I’m afraid this conversation might take a little time. Perhaps we could go for a drive?”
“I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t know you.” The man was impeccably dressed and his father was a nice man, but still he was a stranger. Courtesy was one thing, being irresponsible, another.
“I understand your hesitation but my driver will be with us. You’ll be safe in my company.” His smile, which I assumed was meant to be reassuring, didn’t meet his eyes and did little to make me feel comfortable.
I didn’t understand the feelings this man brought out in me. Men didn’t really touch my radar. My goals involved getting an education and making a better life for myself. Relationships didn’t factor into my bottom line. So why this man had me interested, I couldn’t say.
“Just a moment of your time Miss Burns. I would prefer speaking to you in private.” I could tell instantly that he was a man accustomed to getting his way and for some reason I didn’t want to deny him. I nodded.
He waited as I locked the door to the coffee shop and then followed at my side as we exited the mall. A limo was waiting and my confused eyes met his. “You obviously weren’t kidding when you said you had a driver.” Who was this man? I assumed Lenny was successful but obviously he was more than I’d imagined.
“I always say what I mean Miss Burns.” A small smile touched his lips as he led me toward the car by resting his hand on the small of my back.
People didn’t pull up to the mall in limousines normally. Who had the type of money that afforded someone the privilege of being escorted around this way? No one I was associated with.
The driver walked around to the back passenger door and opened it. For a moment I felt a sense of panic. Getting into a car with a stranger was never a smart idea. “Maybe you should just tell me what this is about.” I took a few steps away from the open door and crossed my arms over my chest. There were still people filing out of the mall so I felt relatively safe.
He ran a long-fingered hand through his dark hair and the look he gave spoke of impatience. “I wanted to break this to you in a more delicate manner but obviously you don’t trust me. My father has passed away.”
For a moment I stared at him dumbfounded. The last time I’d seen Lenny, he seemed vibrant and full of health. “But he didn’t look sick?” I really liked Lenny and the thought of not talking to him again made my heart ache.
“It was rather sudden.” His expression wasn’t what I expected for a man who’d just lost his father. Actually he looked irritated. “He left instructions about helping you and that’s why I think we need to talk.”
Why on earth would Lenny do something like that? We had talked about my goals and dreams but he certainly didn’t owe me anything. Just speaking with him had helped me decide on the path I wanted to take with my life. “Your father was very nice to me, but I’m sure you have more important things to deal with at the moment.”
A strange look entered his eyes and I didn’t know how to decipher it. All I can say is it left him looking less annoyed and maybe somewhat confused. “Be that as it may, I need to honor my father’s final wishes. At least talk with me.” He motioned toward the open car door and the smile on his face seemed saddened.
The change of attitude made me feel a little guilty for arguing with him. The man had just lost his father after all. I didn’t need his help but if he felt the need to discuss it then I could at least hear him out. I attempted to smile and slid into the leather seat of the limousine.
Being surrounded with such luxury instantly made me feel out of place. I was a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl and this was a caviar type of world. I fidgeted with the collar on my uniform shirt waiting for him to get in. When the door closed behind him I felt claustrophobic.
The man took up entirely too much space even in the spacious backseat. It wasn’t his size, although he was over six feet tall and filled out that business suit extremely well. What really overwhelmed me was his air of confidence, something I’d never possessed.
He rolled down the divider window between us and the driver and told him to circle the block before returning his attention to me. His deep blue eyes seemed to be taking in every inch of my appearance. It was very unnerving. My hands moved to my lap to wring nervously together.
“So how did you and my father meet?” His gaze bore into mine and I immediately looked down at my hands. He intimidated me in ways that I couldn’t explain.
“Um, he came into the coffee shop a year ago and we just hit it off.” Thinking that Lenny and I would never talk again was depressing. The man knew a little about everything and I was like a sponge soaking up his knowledge. He was the reason I wanted to attend college, there were so many things to learn about the world we lived in. My eyes watered and I fought to contain my emotions.
“I didn’t realize you’d known him that long.” His voice seemed laced with steel and I glanced up at his handsome face, shocked by the rage that played on his features again.