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Gabby Wade belted out the chorus to Sinead O'Connor's classic "Nothing Compares 2 U" as she pulled into her usual parking spot in front of T.A. Furniture Designs, her voice echoing loudly in the small space. She waited until the final notes of the song had faded before turning off the ignition with a contented sigh.
There was nothing better than a really good angstridden ballad to kick off a Monday morning, and no one was better at it than Sinead. Gabby grabbed her bag then twisted to collect the jumbo box of doughnuts from the backseat. The smell of chocolate and strawberry wafted to her as she walked toward the showroom door. It was barely eight o'clock, so the entrance was still locked, and she balanced the box on her knee as she struggled to get her key in the lock. The doughnuts nearly hit the dust before she got the door open, but she managed to keep her grip on them. Not that it would have made much difference to the guysthey would probably eat cardboard if it had chocolate frosting on it. A little gravel would hardly put them off.
She locked up behind her, then passed through the showroom, making a mental note to rearrange the display sometime this week. Even though she was officially only the office manager, she'd been stepping into sales a lot more lately and a static showroom wasn't doing anyone any favors.
Heaven knew, Tyler was too distracted these days to notice those kinds of things. It was just as well she had his back.
The sharp whine of a power saw hit her as she entered the workshop. Dino was ripping some red gum, and Paul was setting up the router to bevel the edge on a cherry dining table. Carl was marking up some wood, squinting like crazy because he still refused to admit he needed glasses.
"Morning, boys," Gabby hollered over the noise.
Dino grunted without looking up, while Carl ignored her altogether. Paul glanced up briefly, throwing her a token wave. She waited for his brain to register what she held in her hands.
One catdog, two catdog, three
His head whipped up again and his mouth curled into a sweet smile. "Is that what I think it is?"
"Yes, my gallant prince, it is. Two dozen of Krispy Kreme's finest for the fairest gentlemen in all the land."
The saw stopped abruptly. Suddenly all eyes were on her.
Nothing like refined sugars and fats to get a man's attention.
"Gabby, you're a gem." Dino started toward her, dusting his hands together.
"What he said," Carl echoed, his eyes on the box as he followed in Dino's footsteps.
"Try to leave some for Tyler and Kelly," Gabby said.
Paul took the box from her hands. "Of course. We're not animals."
Dino had a doughnut in each hand.
"I'll take your word for it," she said.
Dino laughed sheepishly as she turned toward her office. Then, as though it had only just occurred to her, she swung around.
"I almost forgotwe really need to get that boardroom table out tomorrow. So anything you guys could do to finish it would be really appreciated."
Dino froze midbite. "So these are bribe doughnuts? Nice. How cheap do you think we are?"
"I got chocolate custard, your favorite."
Dino's aggrieved look faded a fraction. "Fine. We'll do what we can. But no promises."
Gabby hid her grin as she walked to her office. If she knew Dinoand after three years of being Tyler's office manager, she was pretty confident she didthe table would be ready for the afternoon's deliveries. And all it had cost her was a trip to Krispy Kreme.
United Nations, eat your heart out.
She pushed open her office doorand froze.
A complete strangera mansat at her desk, his back to the door as he used her computer.
She stared at his broad shoulders, strong neck and closecropped dark hair. What the hell was he doing in her office? Making himself at home in her chair?
"Um, excuse me ?" she finally said when she'd gotten over her initial surprise.
He held up an imperious hand, not even bothering to glance over his shoulder to see who it was. "Won't be a minute."
She stared, incredulous, as whoeverhewas continued to tap at the keyboard. Was he for real?
"Of course. Make yourself at home. Maybe you'd like a coffee while you're at it?"
He did glance up and she found herself staring into a pair of dark gray eyes.
"Tyler said I could jump on to check a few things. I'll be out of your hair in a second."
His voice was low and deep, a subterranean rumble along her nerve endings. Between it and those eyes and the shape of his jaw and face, it wasn't hard to work out who he was: Jon Adamson, Tyler's brother.
He turned to the computer and Gabby found herself staring at his shoulders again. He was bigger than Tyler, broader. She knew he was older by a year or so, too, but apart from that, the only things she knew about Jon were that until recently he'd been living in Canada, that he'd missed Ally and Tyler's wedding because of some business commitment there, and that the past few months he'd been in Woodend while he renovated the family home prior to sale. Correction, she knew one other thinghe was rude. Because surely even the most insensitive person could guess that invading somebody's personal space then virtually ignoring them when they discovered you was not exactly the way to go about winning friends.
She crossed her arms over her chest and waited. And waited.
After what felt like an age, Jon hit a key on her computer and pushed away from the desk.
"Thanks for that," he said as he stood.
He was a little taller than Tyler, and now that he was facing her she noted further similarities and differences between the brothers. His cheekbones were pronounced like Tyler's but sharper, and the lines around his eyes and mouth were deeper. His jaw was the same strong, sure arc, his chin as determined, but his eyes were a much darker gray, the color of storm clouds instead of Tyler's unusual quicksilver.
Her gaze swept his body, taking in his pristine white Tshirt and his equally crisplooking jeans. Both new, unless she missed her guess. Only his boots looked wellworn. She refocused on his face, noting his cleanshaven jaw and the military neatness of his buzz cut.
He looked newly minted somehow. But in a raw, spare kind of way.
She was aware of him checking her out, too, and for a crazy second wished she was wearing something other than a faded Tshirt and jeans and that she'd gone for a proper haircut instead of trimming her fringe with the nail scissors this morning.
She shook the thought off quicklyall signs pointed to the fact this man was an ass, and she didn't give two hoots what an ass thought of her.
Not even one hoot.
"You're Gabrielle, right? Jon Adamson." He offered his hand.
She let him hang for a moment before sliding her hand into his. It seemed only fair, since he'd kept her hanging.
His palm swallowed hers, and she felt the roughness of calluses against her own soft skin.
"You all finished now?" she asked. "I don't want to cramp your style."
He gave her an assessing look. "Like I said, Tyler didn't seem to think you'd mind if I used your office for a few minutes. But if I've stepped on your toes, I apologize."
His tone was very even, very calm. As though she was the one who was out of line here. She felt herself bristling even more and was forced to admit that maybe she was overreacting a little. After all, he'd simply borrowed her computer, with her boss's permission. Nothing to get her panties in a twist over.
He was too big and too strangely familiar, and yet not, and she felt.invaded and a little overwhelmed by his unexpected presence.
She wanted him gone. Wanted her space back.
"I was a little thrown, that's all."
"Again, sorry if I stepped on your toes."
He moved out from behind her desk and she took a hasty step to the side to avoid brushing against him as he headed for the door.
She watched as he strode away, his broad shoulders dipping from side to side like a cowboy as he walked. Only when he was gone did she take a seat in her chair. It was warm from his body and she shifted, feeling invaded all over again.
Why he couldn't have used Tyler's computer, she didn't know. Or at least Tyler could have given her a headsup, told her he'd loaned her office to his brother.
Can you hear yourself? Anyone would think you were eightytwo, not thirtytwo. Next you'll be talking about young people today and how things were different in your day.
Gabby took a deep breath and let it out. She'd already acknowledged she'd overreacted. Yes, Jon could have handled the situation better, too, but she was blowing the whole incident out of proportion. It was a blip on the radar, nothing to get worked up over. He was probably only visiting the workshop for a few minutes, using the excuse of checking out his brother's business to abuse the facilities. The odds were good she'd never see him again.
Launching her email program, she started reading the latest batch of orders and enquiries, absently running her fingers through her short dark hair. She was about to respond to a complicated request from one of their corporate customers when Tyler appeared at her door, a mug of coffee in hand.
"You got a minute?" He propped a shoulder against the frame. As usual, he was dressed in faded jeans and a black Tshirt, the color a perfect foil for his silver eyes.
It was impossible to look at him and not think about his brother. The resemblance was that strong.
"As in a genuine sixty seconds? Absolutely. Anything more than that and you'll be paying me overtime tonight."
"Dream on," Tyler said with a snort of amusement.
He sat in her visitor's chair, his big body loose and relaxed. Gabby studied him for a beat, fascinated despite herself by the change in him over the past year.
The easy laughter, the softness in his eyes, even the way he movedTyler was a new man since he'd met and married Ally.
Happier. More content. Less singleminded and closed off.
It was good to see. No, it was better than goodit was great. Tyler deserved some peace and comfort in his life.
She frowned at the wistful note to her own thoughts.
That'll be enough of that, young lady.
"Don't get too comfortable," she said. "I wasn't joking about being snowed."
"You can work through lunch."
"Your turn to dream on. You know nothing gets between me and my food. Come on, spill. Quit chewing up my valuable time."
"It's no biggy. I need you to add my brother to our insurance policy."
Gabby sat a little straighter. "What?"
"Jon. My brother. He's going to be helping out here at the workshop for a while."
"But" There were so many objections crowding her throat she couldn't decide which one to voice first. "But he's not a cabinetmaker or a French polisher, is he?"
"He's a builder, and he's good. He'll pull his weight."
"So, is this a temporary thing? A couple of weeks? A month?" Gabby asked.
"It's for as long as it needs to be."
"What are you? Yoda? As long as it needs to be? What the hell does that mean?"
Tyler sighed. "Sometimes I forget what a pain in the ass you can be. Can't you just do what you're told for a change?"
It stung. Useless to pretend it didn't. She was only looking out for him. Worrying about his business. And he thought she was a pain in the ass.
"Fine. I'll add him on as a permanent employee." She picked up a pen and poised it over her notepad, ready to take down his instructions verbatim, since that was clearly the kind of employee he wanted her to be. "Anything else I can do for you?"
"Gabby. Come on. Don't go all cat'sbummouthed on me. You know I was only joking."
Nice to know he found her hurt feelings amusing.
"Way to smooth talk me, silver tongue."
"I'm sorry I called you a pain in the ass." He said it like a dutiful schoolboy reciting his times tables.
She raised her eyebrows.
"And the cat's bum comment was completely uncalled for," he added.
"No kidding. And good work with the sincerity there, too. It's really convincing."
Tyler grinned. "Are we friends again?"
For three years, they had been a lot more than friends. He'd been her lover, had practically lived at her place. She'd built all kinds of whitepicket dreams around him. Then she'd realized that he was never going to share himself with her in the way she needed, and she'd pulled the pin on their relationship. He'd been angry at first. Convinced that she was asking for something he didn't have to give. But after a while they'd settled into a friendship and she'd come to work for him.
Then he'd fallen in love with Ally and given all of himself to her freely and openly without a second's thought.
"Your minute's up," she said.
Tyler laughed. Despite the fact that she was still annoyed with him, she couldn't stop her mouth from twitching in response to the rich sound.
He pointed a finger at her. "I saw that."
"Stop pretending you're charming, because you're not. You can't ask for my opinion and advice one minute and then tell me to pull my head in the next."
Tyler must have picked up on the seriousness of her tone because his smile faded.
"I was only joking, Gab, okay?" He was sincere this time, his eyes very sober.
She nodded, feeling ridiculous for being so prickly. She blamed the stranger she'd found at her desk this morningTyler's brother had thrown her off her pace and she was still trying to regain her equilibrium.
"I'll get the paperwork sorted today. What do you want me to set up as far as payroll goes?"
The milliondollar questionexactly what was Tyler paying his underqualified, transient brother?
"I'll take care of that."
She frowned, but this time she didn't say anything. Before she'd joined the business, Tyler had handled the administration himself, so he was more than capable of adding an employee to the payroll. Why he suddenly chose to do so now when she'd been taking care of it for years was a whole other issue.
"Right. Then I guess we're sorted," she said.
"Good stuff." Tyler stood, lifting his coffee mug in a casual salute before heading out the door.
She focused on her work, pushing all the nagging voices in her head to one side. At the end of the day, the name on the sign was T.A. Furniture Design. He was the one taking the risk, therefore he got to make the decisions.
Meaning she was going to have to get used to having his brother around.