CLOSE TO YOU | LAUREL HEIGHTS

closetoyouWhen Treat Byrnes walks into her bookstore café, Eve Alexander wants to eat him up. Bad boy isn’t her usual flavor, but for the sexy contractor, she’s willing to take a walk on the wild side.

Treat meets Eve on a reconnaissance mission for his mother, who owns a neighboring teashop, but he keeps going back to Eve for her sweet smile and sassy shoes. He has a history of falling for damsels-in-distress, but Eve doesn’t need rescuing. Not even when her cafe is sabotaged.

But when Treat finds out the saboteur is his own mother, he knows he has to do something before things go too far.  { scroll down for sneak peek!!}

 

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SNEAK PEEK
Close to You — Chapter One

Like every morning in the six months since she’d opened Grounds for Thought, Eve Alexander peeked from the kitchen window to check on her bookstore café. Gleaming espresso machine. Sparse stacks of books specially showcased through the inviting space. People drinking and reading.

Her dream come true.

And, like every morning, she had the same thought. She was insane.

Shaking her head, she picked up a tray of hot scones and carried it out to the front, careful not to get her heels caught on the knotty wood flooring.

Her friends teased her for wearing her impractical fancy shoes in the café but a girl had to have standards. Besides, she loved them—and she had a backup pair of flip-flops in the kitchen in case her feet began to hurt badly.

“Watch out,” Eve warned her barista Allison.

The older woman stepped out of the way and inhaled deeply. “Clotted cream and orange. If I outgrow my wardrobe, you’ll have to give me a raise.”

“You deserve a raise regardless.” Eve set the scones to cool on a rack strategically placed so customers could see and smell them. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“The word whimper comes to mind.”

“No kidding.” Eve couldn’t afford to have someone else on staff yet, but Allison had offered to work for practically nothing, just to have something to do other than watching TV and gardening. Having Allison saved her from working twenty-four/seven but, even better, offered her friendship. “How’s it going out here?”

“It’s been steady this morning. People seem really interested in the book club. We’re going to need more flyers.”

“Great,” she said, perking up. She’d started the book club two months ago, to pull more revenue in. Last month she had eighteen attendees—eighteen people who bought not only the book they were discussing but also drinks and pastries. This month she was hoping to double attendance.

“The idea you had to do a singles night is excellent too,” Allison said. “God knows it’s hard to meet anyone unless you hang out in a bar.”

“What do you know about dating?”

“I may be happily married, but a lot of my friends are getting divorced and starting over. They talk, sometimes too much. Unlike you.”

“I don’t have anything to talk about.”

“My point exactly.” Her barista got a calculating look in her eyes. “I hear online dating is all the rage.”

“My best friend Freya did that, and don’t even think about putting up a profile for me behind my back.”

Allison exhaled. “Killjoy.”

Her cell phone rang, and Eve reached into her apron pocket to answer it. The glow from Allison’s praise melted away when Eve saw it was Charles on the phone. She groaned. “I have to take this.”

The older woman shooed her away. “Go talk in the kitchen. I’m fine out here.”

Nodding glumly, she waited until she was in the kitchen and out of Allison’s hearing to answer. “Hey Dad. What’s going on?”

“I got your check for this month’s rent. It was late.”

“It should have only been a day late.”

“Late is late, Evangeline.”

She put a hand to her temple. She’d thought it was bad when her father was her boss—it was ten times worse having him as her landlord. “I missed the mail deadline and sent it a day later than I meant to. I’m sorry. Next time I’ll just drop it off.”

“You can’t go around stiffing money to your business partners.”

“Dad, I didn’t stiff you money. I just—”

“I knew this store of yours was a bad idea,” he continued, speaking over her. “You work all the time and are in debt up to your eyeballs.”

“It’s not that bad.” It was, but he didn’t know it. He thought she’d invested all her savings. She hadn’t told him that she’d taken a second mortgage on her condo too. And there was no way in hell she was telling him that she was thirty days from bankruptcy.

“It was a mistake to encourage you by leasing that property. I shouldn’t have let you convince me.”

She hadn’t asked him to take the lease out for her—it’d been his idea to lease it and rent it to her. But she wasn’t sure she would have qualified for it on her own, so she went along with it.

Mistake. Big mistake.

“You should come back to work for me,” he said. “I’ll give you your old job.”

“Thanks, Dad, but—”

“I’ll even give you a small raise. You’ll have the same title though, director of marketing.”

“I just opened my shop, Dad. You didn’t raise me to quit.”

He huffed. “I didn’t raise you to be crazy, and this is crazy, Evangeline. Adonut shop?”

She gritted her teeth. “It’s a café, with pastries, not donuts.”

“Then what are the books about? It makes no sense.”

“It makes perfect sense.” She only stocked a dozen or so titles, but she switched them every week, sometimes based on a theme. People loved recommendations. “I’m catering to my clientele.”

“You could have picked a less expensive neighborhood to open this place.”

“I live here, Dad.” Right in the building above Grounds for Thought, actually. She’d coveted that storefront ever since she bought her condo. When it became free, it was like a sign.

And Laurel Heights was the perfect neighborhood for her type of shop. A little ritzy, with lots of well-to-do retirees and women who hung out during the day while their kids were at school. She’d made the perfect cozy place for them to hang out. Just like she’d always dreamed.

Now her dream owned her.

“Have you talked to Claire?” her father asked out of the blue.

Eve stiffened. Here it was—the part where he compared her to her perfect older sister. The sister who’d gone to Stanford, graduated summa cum laude, married the greatest guy, had the most adorable little girl, and managed a foundation for children in Africa infected with HIV.

Mother Teresa had nothing on Claire.

It would’ve all been easier to take if Claire weren’t so damn nice. Claire never lorded her superiority over her. In fact, if Eve needed anything, she knew she could go to her sister.

Which made her all that much more determined to prove she could make this work on her own. “No, I haven’t spoken to Claire in a couple weeks. Aren’t they in Rwanda?”

“Tunisia.” There was some rustling, and then he cursed. “Damn it, I need to go interview this person.”

“Another marketing director?”

“Yes,” he grumbled.

“The new one you hired quit? Does that make three?”

“If you came back, I wouldn’t have this problem.”

It’d probably help if he stopped yelling at them too. “I’ll talk to you later, Dad. I love you.”

He mumbled an incoherent yeah, you too and hung up.

She slipped the phone into her apron and checked on her chocolate croissants. Taking them out of the oven, she automatically put in a tray of almond croissants. Then she dropped her head into her hands and took a deep breath.

She was trying not to give in to negativity, but things were bad. Really bad. In thirty days she’d have no money left, and her credit was already on its way to being maxed out.

She was on the verge of losing everything: her business and her condo.

Worst case, she knew her parents would take her in, but she’d rather stab a knife in her heart than crawl home defeated. She could already hear her dad telling her over and over again how lacking she was compared to her older sister.

She needed another six months of cash. In six months, she’d be in the black. But banks were tight with their money, especially when it came to lending to a broke baker.

She needed a miracle.

Shake it off. Picking up the tray of croissants, she pasted a smile on her face and went out front. When she saw Freya standing at the counter bouncing the small pink bundle strapped in front of her, Eve’s fake smile morphed into a genuine one. “Hey, you’re up early.”

“The kid wouldn’t sleep.” She looked down at her baby girl and cooed. “Yes, Mae, I love you so much, even when you wake me up pre-dawn.”

“My younger son only slept six hours a day.” Allison laughed. “But it gets better.”

“When?” Freya asked disbelievingly.

“When they go off to college.”

“I can make it better now,” Eve said. “Go sit and I’ll bring you a cappuccino.”

“Hurry, because I’ll fall asleep if I get too comfortable.” Soothing Mae, she went to sit in one of the cushy chairs in the window.

Plating a scone to go with the cappuccino, Eve asked Allison to hold the fort and joined Freya.

“A scone,” her best friend said reverently, immediately popping a piece in her mouth. “I knew there was a reason I went to so much trouble for you.”

“Trouble?”

Freya reached into a pocket and held out a folded scrap of paper.

“What’s this?” Eve opened and read it. There was a woman’s name and number written in Freya’s crisp handwriting.

“You know that my sister’s boyfriend is a chef, right? Well, Max knows someone who knows someone who knows Daniela Rossi.”

“I love Daniela Rossi,” Eve said. Daniela was the pastry chef of the stars and the inspiration for Eve’s baking. “She’s coming out with her first cookbook soon.”

“Yes, and she’s looking for a place to launch her press tour.” Freya leveled her a look. “Hint, hint.”

Eve gasped and clutched the paper to her chest. “You do love me.”

Her best friend nodded. “When I heard about it, I knew it was just the thing you needed. It’d put you on the map in a big way.”

“And I have the perfect location, in the best city in the world for a pastry cookbook.” She looked around her warm shop and inhaled the sweetness of bread and coffee. “I can see it too. I’ll pack this place and make her recipes to serve. I’ll get a ton of press coverage and—”

“Whoa up, cowgirl.” Freya grinned. “You’re better off writing down your marketing plans. They’re lost on me. But if you need flyers or anything designed, I’m your woman.”

“You’re my fairy godmother,” she corrected, leaning to hug her. “Thank you.”

“You’re going to make this work, Eve.”

“Yes. Yes, I am.” She exhaled and tucked the paper safely into her pocket. Her miracle had been handed to her. Now she just needed to make it happen.

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