Read an Excerpt
"There's something you don't see every day."
"What are you talking about?" Lucas King stepped through his front door onto the wide porch and handed his younger brother a beer. Just for a second, he took the time to admire the view of the Pacific Ocean, across the street. The sun was setting, staining the dark blue water deep shades of crimson and gold. He settled into the closest chair and took a sip of his beer.
Sean grinned and pointed. "That. Look what just pulled up outside your neighbor's house."
Lucas shifted his gaze to Ocean Boulevard and his eyes widened. A dark blue minivan was parked in front of the house next door. Ordinarily, no big dealexcept for the giant covered skillet on the roof.
"Check out the sign on the side," Sean said, laughing. "'Home cooking taught at home,'" Lucas recited, shaking his head. "So the sign on the side of the car in bright yellow paint wasn't enough? They had to stick a pan on top?"
Sean was still laughing as he took a sip of his beer. "Not exactly aerodynamic."
"It looks ridiculous," Lucas said, wondering what kind of person would have so little pride they'd be willing to drive the thing. "Who the hell runs a business like that, anyway?"
"Mmm " Sean's tone changed as the minivan's door opened and the driver stepped out into the street. "Whoever she is, she can teach me whatever she wants to."
Lucas rolled his eyes even as he shifted his gaze back to the ocean. Big surprise. Sean was always willing and eager for the next woman to roll into his life. Give him five minutes with Pan-on-the-Car Woman, Lucas told himself, and Sean would have a weekend getaway scheduled. Well, Sean was welcome to the stream of women entering and exiting his life. Lucas liked his life a little more orderly.
Only half listening to Sean's running commentary, Lucas ignored the woman and the car and focused on the stretch of water sliding toward the horizon. This is what he loved about where he lived. Every night after work, he could come out to the porch, have a beer, stare out at the water and let the world slip away for a while. Usually though, he thoughtSean's voice an annoying buzz of sound in the backgroundhe was alone.
Here, he didn't have to be on top of King Construction. Here, no one was hounding him for a meeting or to fix something gone wrong with permits. There were no needy customers to placate and no hurry to accomplish a damn thing.
Oh, he liked his work. He and his brothers Rafe and Sean had built King Construction into the biggest firm of its kind on the west coast. But damned if it didn't feel good to come home and let it all go for a while.
"Always did like a blonde," Sean was saying. "And a tall one, too."
Lucas snorted. "Blondes, redheads, brunettes. Your problem is you like 'em all."
"Yeah? Your problem is you're too damn picky. When was the last time you called a woman who wasn't a customer?" Sean kicked back in his chair, setting his feet on the stone porch-balcony rail in front of them.
"None of your business," Lucas muttered.
"Hell. That long? No wonder you're such a pain in the ass lately." Sean took another drink of his beer. "What you need is a little female attention and if you've got eyes in your head, one look at this blonde and you'll be ready to go."
Lucas sighed and surrendered to the inevitable. Sean wasn't going to shut up about the woman, so Lucas might as well get a good look at her for himself. "No way," he muttered.
"Huh?" Sean glanced at him.
"I don't believe this," Lucas said, more to himself than to his brother. He stood up, eyes locked on the tall, curvy blonde hurrying around the front of her car. Her long hair was pulled into a ponytail at the base of her neck, the wind whipping her hair into a frenzy. Her skin was pale and, he knew, dusted with freckles across her nose and cheeks. He couldn't see her eyes from here, but he knew they were a deep summer blue. Her mouth was wide and curved easily into a smile, and her laugh was infectious as hell.
He hadn't seen her in two years and seeing her now sent a near electric current sizzling through him. Lucas watched her open the sliding side door, then bend over to reach inside.
Instantly, he shifted his gaze to the curve of her behind, defined by the tight black jeans she wore. That buzz of something inside him heightened into a crackling, pulsing energy.
"What's going on?" Sean pushed out of his chair to stand beside his brother. "You know her?"
"I used to," Lucas admitted. Not as well as he had wanted to at the time, of course. A guy just didn't make moves on his friend's sister.
"Great. How about you introduce me to tall, blonde and luscious"
Lucas glared at him.
Sean nodded and held up both hands. "Okay then, never mind. So who is she?"
Sean's eyebrows went up high enough that the shock of black hair falling across his forehead completely hid them. Then he turned and looked at the blonde, still fishing around inside her van. "That's Dave Clancy's little sister?"
"The one he always claimed was practically a saint? Good? Sweet? Pure as the driven snow?"
"The very one," Lucas muttered, his gaze now narrowed on her as he remembered all the times he had listened to his ex-friend Dave brag about his baby sister.
The Clancy family ran a rival construction company.
Well, rivals in the sense that they were all in the same business. In Lucas's mind, there had never really been a contest between them. King Construction was the best firm in the state, but Clancy came in a close second.
He and Dave had met at a chamber-of-commerce meeting and had immediately hit it off. They'd been friends as well as friendly competitors. Until the day two years ago when Lucas finally figured out that Dave Clancy was a liar and a thief.
"Didn't I hear that Rose got a divorce last year from that ass she married?"
"Yeah," Lucas said, still watching as Rose hurried back to her van for more supplies. "I heard she divorced him. Weren't married long, either."
Long enough, though, Lucas thought, to discover her husband was a cheating dog that should have been neutered for the good of humanity. Funny that her so protective older brother hadn't bothered to save her from a bad marriage.
Rose gathered up a few more things, then slid the door closed, beeped the lock and headed for the house again. She never once glanced at her surroundings, so she didn't notice Lucas and Sean standing on the porch staring at her.
"What're you planning?" Sean asked and Lucas turned his head to look at him.
"Not planning a thing," he lied as his mind raced with sudden possibilities.
"Right. Sell that to somebody who doesn't know you."
"Don't you have a date tonight?" Lucas asked.
"Yeah, I do."
"Then maybe you should go."
"Translation," Sean said wryly, "you don't want to tell me what you're thinking about doing."
Lucas grinned. "Smart man."
Shaking his head, Sean set his half-empty bottle of beer down onto the stone rail and headed for the steps. He paused, though, to look over his shoulder at his brother. "You know, it was Dave who cheated us. Not his sister."
Lucas met Sean's gaze evenly, his eyes giving away nothing he was feeling. "Did I say anything about Dave?"
"No," Sean admitted. "But I know how your mind works."
"Is that a fact?"
"It is." Sean tipped his head to one side and studied him for a long minute. "Kings don't like getting screwed. But Lucas King takes betrayal as a personal insult."
"Isn't it?" Lucas looked away from his brother, back to his neighbor's empty front yard and Rose's ridiculous van.
Dave Clancy had been a friend. Someone Lucas trusted. And he didn't trust many people. Having that friend turn on him had cut deep and damned if he'd apologize for still being angry.
"Dave cheated all of us," Lucas reminded his brother. "He paid one of our employees to give him insider information and then he went out and undercut our bids on four different projects. I call that pretty damn personal."
"We never found any proof of that."
"Yeah? I got my proof when Lane Thomas left us to go to work for Dave's outfit and suddenly the undercutting stopped. Coincidence?"
"Fine." Sean pushed one hand through his hair and shrugged. "All I'm saying is taking your anger out on Rose won't do a damn thing to settle up with Dave."
"Who says I'm taking anything out on anybody?" Lucas asked.
"So you're not planning on a little payback?"
"I'll see you at work tomorrow, Sean."
"No way does this end well," Sean told him, then turned and headed down the front walk to his car.
Lucas dismissed his brother in the next minute. "It won't end well for the Clancys," he murmured thoughtfully. "That's for damn sure."
Rose waved goodbye to the woman standing in the doorway and didn't let her smile fade until the front door was closed. The sidewalk was brightly lit and the streetlights on Ocean Boulevard gave off a soft, yellow glow, so she didn't mind the darkness. It was actually a relief to get out into the cold, crisp night and away from the lingering smell of burned onions.
Kathy Robertson was determined to become a good cookwhich made her an excellent clientbut it wasn't going to be easy. Still, that meant Mrs. Robertson was going to be a long-term project, and that meant solvency for Rose's burgeoning business. A good thing. Smiling to herself, Rose stacked her supplies back in her van, slid the door closed and then jumped when a man's voice spoke up from behind her.
"Been a while."
She spun around, hand to her chest, and looked up at a man she hadn't seen in two years. Not since he and her older brother had cut off all communication. As soon as her heart slid out of her throat, it started pounding in excitement. "Lucas?"
He was leaning against her van. How had he walked up without her being aware of it? Now that she knew he was there, her skin was prickling and her nerve endings were standing up straight, dancing in appreciation. He was wearing a pullover red sweater over a white T-shirt and black jeans. His boots were scuffed and his black hair was ruffled by the wind. His jaw boasted the shadow of a beard and his blue eyes were fixed on her.
"You scared me to death," she admitted when she could find her voice again.
"Sorry," he said, but didn't sound apologetic at all. "Didn't mean to startle you. But I wanted to talk to you before you left."
"Where'd you come from?" She glanced up and down the street, idly noting the steady stream of traffic.
"I live next door," he told her, jerking his thumb toward the two-story house boasting a wide, stone front porch.
"I didn't know," she said, which was a good thing. Because she might not have taken the Robertsons on as customers if she had known Lucas King lived right beside them.
A few years ago, she had spent a lot of time daydreaming about this man. It hadn't gone any further than that, of course, because her brother, Dave, had made sure to keep Lucas at a distance from her. Still, it hadn't been easy to put Lucas out of her mind. He continued to sneak back in at unexpected moments. Seeing him again was only going to refuel those old daydreams and make not thinking about him even more difficult.
But he'd made himself very clear three years ago. He hadn't been interested in her enough then to go against her brother's interference and there was no reason to think that had changed. Besides, she'd been through a lot in the past few years. She wasn't the easily charmed or foolishly romantic girl she had been.
Sure, her mind taunted slyly, that's why your heart's still pounding and your palms are damp. Because you're so cool and controlled.
Frowning at her own inner turmoil, she missed what Lucas said and was forced to ask, "What?"
He pushed away from the car, stuffed his hands into his back pockets and repeated, "I said, I'm glad to see you're teaching Kathy to cook. I've been to dinner at their place. Not pretty."
Wryly, Rose was forced to admit, "She is chal-lenging. But she's determined to improve, and that's good for all of us."
Nodding his head, he glanced at the skillet on top of her car. "Interesting advertisement."
She knew what he must be thinking, but Rose liked her skillet. An artist friend had made it for her and attached it to the roof of the van. "I think it's quirky."
"That's one word for it," he said.
Instantly, her back went up. She'd had to defend her new business to her older brother, and she wasn't going to do the same with Dave's ex-friend. Which reminded her of the fact that Dave and Lucas weren't even speaking anymore. So why was Lucas talking to her now?
She pushed windblown hair off her face and asked, "Was there something you wanted, Lucas?"
He looked at her for a long, silent moment, those blue eyes of his shadowed in the dim light. But his stare was just as powerful as it had once been, and Rose felt her heartbeat quicken again in response. It was an involuntary reaction, she told herself firmly, and refused to acknowledge it further.
"Actually," he said, "there is. You teach cooking classes in people's homes, right?"
"Then I want to hire you."
She hadn't expected that and wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. Lucas King was one of the wealthiest men in America. He could employ a dozen chefs and never once have to enter his own kitchen if he didn't want to. So why learn to cook for himself?