She sounds so old fashioned sometimes, and what is she? In her early fifties? Mom acts and sounds much older. But she grew up in a much stricter world than I ever did. My grandparents wouldn’t let her do anything.
It drives me crazy, how she loves to go on and on about me needing a man in my life. Her disappointment that I haven’t found a boyfriend is her old-fashioned thinking rearing its ugly head.
“He’s not from the area,” I tell her, tossing my jeans onto the last spot of empty space on my bed.
“Oh? So how did you two meet?”
“At an event a few nights ago. Remember the brewery- and wine-tasting thing I told you about?”
“Ah, yes. So.” She smiles. “What does he do?”
He’s a shark who’s sniffing around Molina property and wants to steal it from us for nothing so he can turn around and make a huge profit.
Oh yeah, and he’s a sex god who had me screaming his name when he made me come.
“He’s in real estate,” I finally answer as I head back into my closet.
My stomach roils, and I press my lips together. Why am I going out with him again? Yes, I’m hoping he’ll get me an in with Archer Bancroft so I can talk him into carrying Autumn Harvest bakery desserts at his restaurants in his two hotels.
I hope this entire setup works. More than anything, I hope I can enjoy my dinner tonight and not want to stab Gage in the chest with my fork. As long as he keep his mouth shut and looks pretty, we should be good.
You are such a bitch.
Maybe I am. But the man provokes me like none other. Both in a good and bad way.
Mom follows me, hovering at the open door. “Residential or commercial?”
I can practically hear her brain calculating how much he could possibly be worth. “I don’t know. I’m guessing commercial.”
“Ahh. That’s nice. How old is he?”
“Um.” I swallow hard. I don’t know all the pertinent information about Gage Emerson beyond his name, that he and Archer are friends, and he’s a jackass snake in the grass who’s really good with his hands. And his mouth. And his . . .
Wow, isn’t my opinion of him top notch?
“I think he’s in his early thirties?” I wince, not one hundred percent sure my answer is right. Looks like Google and I need a second date tonight.
“Sounds like you don’t know much about your young man.”
I barely restrain from rolling my eyes. “He’s not mine, Mom.”
“Oh, someday he will be. If he’s smart and realizes what a fine catch you are.” She sounds so confident. I almost hate to disappoint her.
So I don’t.
“He’s very intelligent. I think he’s fairly successful at his job.” From the way he dressed and his arrogant attitude, I would say he’s definitely doing all right. Plus, there was all that research I did on him. Not that I’m telling my mom anything. “He’s handsome too.”
Too handsome, is more like it. All that dark hair tinged with gold, the intense hazel eyes, rugged bone structure, and too tempting mouth—he’s definitely gorgeous.
Not to mention that amazing body and big ol’ . . .
“He sounds delightful. Is he coming here to pick you up?” Mom asks, her expression beyond hopeful.
“I’m meeting him at the restaurant,” I answer, ignoring her disappointment. I can’t let it bother me. If I had Gage pick me up at the house, he’d get the third degree. My father would probably make him fill out a questionnaire to see if he’s good enough to go out with me or not, and we’d end up here for hours. In the end, Gage would run screaming from my house, never to return.
And I wouldn’t doubt for an instant that Gage is using me to get close to my father. Considering I’m using him to get an in with Archer, I guess I can’t complain.
“I don’t know if I like that,” Mom murmurs, shaking her head.
I start going through my clothing again, pushing aside one hanger after another. “Let’s see if this goes any further before I bring him around here, okay?”
“Of course.” Mom nods but she still looks a little heartbroken. “I understand. Well, I’ll let you get back to your search. Let me know if you need any help.”
I watch her leave, jumping a little when she slams the door behind her.
I’ve disappointed her. Again. This time it hangs heavy over me. She makes me feel like a little kid. When am I ever going to do anything right in her eyes?
Exiting my closet, I grab my cell from my bedside table, shocked to see I have a text message from Gage. We exchanged phone numbers before we got off the phone earlier, but I didn’t expect to hear from him.
How about I come pick you up tonight? Instead of meeting at the restaurant?
I frown. Did the man bug my room or what? It’s like he heard the conversation between my mom and me.
I’d rather just meet you at the restaurant. It’s easier, I reply.
He immediately answers.
It’s no trouble. Really.
The guy doesn’t quit. From what I can tell—and I barely know him—he’s always determined to get what he wants. It’s rather annoying. I need to nip this in the bud.
I’d rather you not meet my family. And I’d rather drive my own car.
There. Brutally honest might shut him up. Though I immediately feel guilty for sending such a bitchy text, I push the unwanted emotion aside. I need to remind myself he’s a jerk who only wants one thing from me.
And it’s not sex. He wants to make money off my family.
This time he takes a little longer to reply.
I have met your family. Your aunt . . . remember?
I let out a sigh. He fights just to fight, doesn’t he? I think he likes going round and round.
Then meet me at the bakery at seven. Though I’ll probably be alone. Gina leaves early.
I should make Gina stick around as the buffer. The last thing we need is to be at the bakery alone again. He might try and spread me nak*d across my desk and have his wicked way with me.
Lord help me, that sounds delicious.
I’ll see you at the bakery at seven then.
Nothing else. No more trying to convince me to let him come to my house, no more nothing. I think I might’ve offended him.
I know I shouldn’t care. I know it’s pointless, but . . .
I feel bad.
“HOPE YOUR BOY Toy shows up soon. I’m about ready to take off,” Gina mutters as she wipes her hands on a rag at the sink. She’s just finished making a new creation, and I told her I’d wanted her to stick around for Gage’s arrival so I could use her for protection.
She’d been surprised but hadn’t made me explain myself too much, thank God. Just nodded, told me she was in the mood to experiment and since it was my Uncle Joe’s poker night, she would stay after work and hang out with me.
So I watched her make a chocolate raspberry cake that smelled divine and had the best frosting I’ve ever tasted. All the while, we talked. About the bakery, what our individual plans were for the next year, what we thought we could to do take the bakery to a higher level.
It was fun. My aunt is savvy about business, creative, with an endless list of ideas. I briefly explained how I was going to meet Archer. She thought it was a fabulous idea, which pleased me. I wanted her on board. I consider Gina my business partner, and I hope she feels the same way.
Plus, she helped ease my nerves about Gage coming to pick me up and take me to dinner. As the time draws closer to Gage showing up, I’m worrying about potentially bad situations. Like the two of us alone in his car on the way to the restaurant. Yeah, that could be scary.
Scary and exciting, if the two emotions can coexist.
I believe when it comes to Gage and me, they definitely can.
“Where’s he at?” Gina asks, interrupting my thoughts. “It’s almost quarter after seven.”
I push down the threatening irritation, glancing down at my black sparkly top and picking off a piece of lint. I finally decided on a top that shows off a lot of skin without looking sluttish. Because I don’t want to tempt Gage or give him the wrong message. I refuse to have sex with him again tonight.
And if he keeps me waiting much longer, we will most definitely not be hav**g s*x tonight. Or any other night.
“So he goes from Rat Boy to Boy Toy?” I ask her, wanting to change the focus of our conversation. If we keep going on about how late he is, I’m just going to get madder.
“Oh, yes.” She smiles. “Rat Boy is quite handsome, so that’s a bit of a stretch for a nickname, you know? He’s got that pretty face I’m sure you enjoy staring at.”
I feel my cheeks heat but don’t say anything. I do enjoy looking at that pretty face. She knows me too well.
“And who wouldn’t? I don’t mind looking at it either.” Her smile blossoms into a full-blown grin. “Has your mama met him yet?”
“God, no,” I mutter. “She’d flip out and have us engaged within minutes.”
Gina laughs. She knows it’s true. “She’d probably be picking out your wedding china patterns and prepping the baby announcements.”
I laugh with her. “She knows I’m going out to dinner with him, but I told her it was nothing serious. That it’s just business.”
“Business, huh?” You know, the more I think about it, I find it hard to believe. He’s a charmer, that man. I think you might’ve fallen under his spell.” Gina raises a skeptical eyebrow, but I ignore it.
“Really, Gina. This has nothing to do with his charm and everything to do with talking to Archer Bancroft about your desserts in his hotels. Remember?” When she nods reluctantly, I continue. “He’s good friends with Archer. We’re going out to dinner with him and his fiancé. I hope to present my idea in the next week or two, but tonight will help break the ice.”
“Ah, such a wonderful idea. Truly.” Gina takes off her dirty apron and tosses it into the laundry hamper, then comes toward me and wraps me into a big hug. “Such a smart girl you are, Marina. I wish your parents could see how much you love the bakery. I’m afraid they’re going to sell it.”
My heart sinks into my toes, reminding me of the other reason Gage is in my life. He plans on taking everything away from me anyway.
Makes me wonder why I’m trying to get in with Archer’s hotels when the bakery might eventually disappear. “I wish they could see how much the bakery means to you, too.”
Gina shrugs as she withdraws from my embrace. “Perhaps we should make a presentation to the family as well. Convince everyone that we need to keep the bakery for the both of us.”
That sounds like an impossible feat. The bakery is right smack in the middle of the block of buildings that my family owns. I really doubt they’d sell all around it and let us have this space. “We can try, right?” I ask weakly.
She cups my cheek, giving my face a little shake. “Don’t sound so defeated, girly. We could turn this around. Don’t think we’re already beat.”
Hard to do, considering I feel like the both of us are working toward an impossible goal. “Yeah, I know.” The bell above the front door jingles, indicating someone’s entered the café. “I should go check who’s here.” It’s probably Gage, and my heart starts racing just thinking about seeing him.