A Bride For The Holidays by Renee Roszel released on Nov 24, 2003 is available now for purchase.
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A Bride For The Holidays
By Renee Roszel
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE ringing phone blasted through the stillness of the empty coffee shop like a tornado siren. Trisha's breath caught and froze in her chest. She instinctively knew this was the call she'd been waiting for.
Her last chance.
The polished aluminum and white-tiled surroundings evaporated from her consciousness as she vaulted over the mop bucket part-time employee, Amber Grace, had dragged out to clean up a spilled latte.
Trisha grabbed the wall phone's receiver, fumbling, almost dropping it before she managed a firm enough grasp to lift it to her ear. "Ed's Gourmet Java Joint." She swallowed, forcing the nervous quiver from her voice. "Trisha August, Day Manager, speaking."
She recognized the caller's voice - the bank loan officer, telephoning with his verdict. Her heart pounded so furiously she could hardly hear over its deafening beat. This was her moment of truth - whether she would get her small business loan, or not.
Caught between wrenching anxiety and frothy optimism, she listened, nodded, hardly able to squeeze in more than a brief "yes" or "no" as the loan officer talked in a tone that was mincingly polite but distant.
Her heart sank. She'd heard that same thumbs-down speech so many times she couldn't stand hearing it again. "But, I'm very responsible and I'm a hard worker. I'll do anything for a loan!" she blurted, interrupting the lecture she knew was about to end in "Thank you for your interest in Kansas City Unified Bank."
"I'll do anything you ask!" she cried. "Please, just give me a chance!"
Without even the courtesy of a pause to pretend he gave her plea some thought, the loan officer delivered his "Thank you for your interest" line and hung up.
Trisha stood there with the receiver clenched in a fist. Raw anger at the unfairness of the world overwhelmed her. She could do this! She could make a success of herself, if somebody would only give her a chance! Her throat aching with fury, she slammed the receiver on its hook. "You can't borrow money if you don't have money!" Frustration and resentment coloring her words, she twisted away from the phone. "How does anybody ever open a business?"
"That's a good question," came a male voice. The comment had been spoken softly, the tone rich and deep and stirringly masculine.
Startled that a customer had entered without her notice, Trisha's gaze shot to the serving counter. A man stood there. A tall man, clad in a camel overcoat that Trisha guessed was made of the finest cashmere. His broad, expensively garbed shoulders twinkled with melting snow. Dark hair glittered, too. As fetching as all that sparkling and twinkling was in a fluorescent glare that didn't ordinarily show anyone to advantage, her attention was captured by his face.
What a face! He wasn't smiling, but a slight upturn at one side of his mouth, gave the impression of cavalier nonchalance. His lips were nice, wholly masculine without the exotic plumpness of some male models.
His eyes were sharp and assessing. That was obvious, even half masked beneath the long, thick sweep of his lashes. It was difficult to tell what color his eyes were, shadowed by such a sexy canopy. Brown, possibly gray.
Her hesitation must have been overlong, because the stranger with the scintillating eyes cleared his throat. "I'd like a cup of coffee."
Trisha felt like a fool. What had gotten into her? She stepped around Amber Grace and her mop, noticing belatedly that the teenager had also gone stock-still. In an aside, she murmured, "That latte isn't going to mop itself."
The teen blinked, coming back from never-never land. "Oh - yeah." Her mop began to move.
Trisha hurried to the counter and smiled, though the pleasant expression felt strained. That business loan would have helped her achieve her dream - and it was gone. She hadn't begun to deal with the bitter and unjust defeat, but she shoved the pain and outrage to a back shelf in her brain. This was neither the time nor place to vent her spleen. "Good afternoon, sir," she said as pleasantly as she could. "We have three special blends today, raspberry-vanilla, Jamaica-chocolate and orange -"
"Do you have anything called coffee?"
She could see his eyes better across the counter. They were gray. Steel gray. An unusual color, and attractive, yet a little too piercing for comfort.
For some bizarre reason she had trouble remembering if they had anything called coffee. Working to get her brain on track, she responded, "Uh - how about our Colombian Dark Secret?"
"As long as the dark secret is that it has coffee in it."
She found herself smiling, an amazing feat, considering her future had just been crushed under the unfeeling boot heel of corporate banking. "I promise it has coffee in it, sir," she said, still smiling in spite of her broken dreams. "What size would you like, biggie, biggie-extra or biggie-boggle?" As she named the sizes, she pointed out the small, medium and large cups affixed to the top of the latte machine.
"Medium," he said.
For some reason she liked that about him. He was a nononsense man who called a spade a spade. No fancy pseudospeak cluttered his world. Just bare-boned facts. "Yes, sir." She moved away to retrieve a cup and pour him a medium order of strong, black coffee. And he would drink it black, she knew. Black, strong and unadulterated. A real man's cup of coffee.
A real man's cup of coffee? What a silly, fanciful thought to have about a total stranger. She shook it off.
Her back to him, she sidled to the Colombian Dark Secret spigot and pulled the lever. Funny, she could feel his gaze on her. Not that lots of customers didn't follow her movements as she got their order, but there was something different in the way she sensed his gaze. Her cheeks grew hot and she felt a tremor of feminine excitement, to think such a man might -
"What is this business you can't get a loan for?"
She was so startled by his question she almost dropped the paper cup. When she regained her grip on it and opened the spigot again, she glanced over her shoulder. "Oh - I'm sorry you heard that, sir. I didn't mean to ..." Now the heat in her cheeks was due to humiliation. How unprofessional of her to rant about her bad luck in front of a customer!
"No, tell me," he said, looking completely serious. "I might know somewhere you can go for that loan."
With the full cup of coffee, she returned to the counter. "I don't think so, sir," she said, shaking her head. "I've tried every place in town, plus everything on the Internet I can find." She indicated the cup lids in a cubbyhole beside others containing sugar and creamer packets, as well as red plastic stirrers. When he shook his head to decline, she held the cup toward him. "The only companies that would lend me money charged loan-shark interest rates."
"That's too bad." He reached for the coffee cup.
Just as he was about to take it, Trisha felt a sharp jab between her shoulder blades, hard enough to knock her off balance. She pitched forward, her forearms coming into explosive contact with the coffee bar's brushed aluminum countertop. She winced at the pain. "Ouch! What in the world ..." Struggling up, she reached back to rub the throbbing spot where she'd been jabbed.
"Oops. What'd I hit?" Amber Grace asked in the nasal whine she used when she perpetrated one of her many crimes of incompetence. She turned around to face her boss. "Was it your back?"
Trisha stared at the young girl, reining in her temper with difficulty. "You think?"
Amber Grace wore her usual sheepish "lucky-I'm-Ed'sniece" face, but an instant later her expression changed to horror. "Oh!" She let go of the mop with one hand and pointed. "Look what you did to that man!"
Look what you did to that man!
Those seven dreadful words exploded in Trisha's head like gunfire. She didn't have to look to know his expensive cashmere coat was drenched with Colombian Dark Secret. A mortified sound issued up from her throat, a strangled expression of her grief at the loss of this week's paycheck. That's what it would cost her to get his coat cleaned. With great reluctance and even greater regret she faced the man in dripping cashmere.
His attention had dropped to the front of his coat. When their eyes met, his expression was not one of great cheer. "On second thought, a lid might have been a good idea."
Excerpted from A Bride For The Holidays by Renee Roszel Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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