All Harper Thompson wants for Christmas is the huge promotion she's worked so hard for—which she should get, as long as her launch of the hip new coffeehouse, Deja Brew, goes according to plan. Jonah Rogers is trying to save his family's coffee shop, Lucky Star, from going out of business, which will be tough with the brand-new Deja Brew opening across the street.
When Jonah and Harper meet for the first time after accidentally swapping phones, their chemistry is as electric as a strand of Christmas lights. He's a tall, handsome, compassionate hunk of engineer, and she's an entrepreneur whose zest for life is very sexy. They love all the same things, like scary movies, greasy food—and most of all, dogs. It's a match made in heaven...until Jonah finds out that Harper's the one about to put him out of business.
Only one coffee shop likely can survive, and a competition of one-upmanship ensues in a battle of the brews. The paws really come out when the local rescue shelter has a fundraiser where local businesses foster dogs, and patrons vote with their dollars for their favorite pup. Harper takes in an adorable old bulldog on behalf of Deja Brew, while Jonah fosters a perky three-legged dachshund for Lucky Star. As the excitement builds for who will be crowned King Mutt and king of the coffee hill, Harper and Jonah must decide if their connection was all steam or if they are the perfect blend.
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Ten months later
This shared ride had the distinct vibe of a horror movie, and Harper should know, because she had seen practically every horror movie ever made. Girl enters dark interior of nondescript van. Girl is smashed up against a guy with an uncompromising manspread, only slightly preferable to the other guy with the guitar case wedged between his legs. Girl is barked at by dog in pet carrier in front seat, held by a woman with a shower cap on her head. Girl is confused by driver, who is chatting like rain isn't coming down in torrents, like he can see just fine out the front windshield when they all know he can't, like it's a good idea to keep looking in the rearview mirror to gauge the effect of his speech on the passengers in back when road conditions are treacherous. Eyes on the road!
The only thing missing from this scene was the alien creature that should be splatting on the windshield any minute now.
This was a Rain Event to be sure, coming very inconveniently on the eve of Christmas Eve, which, Harper's driver informed them, was the busiest travel day of the year. She wished she'd known that before she'd purchased her ticket home for the holidays. She'd meant to leave a day or two earlier, but as usual, her boss, Soren Wilder (yes, his real name), threw some stuff at her last minute. And as usual, she didn't say no. Harper Thompson didn't turn away from a challenge, no matter how small or inconsiderate.
Plus, she'd wanted to pay a visit to Bob. Bob was old and crotchety and didn't have many friends, and she couldn't bear to think of him alone for the holidays. So she'd gone round to see him one last time, like she did every Saturday, and he'd sighed and looked away, and then she'd snagged what was possibly the last ticket out of town. On the Megabus, no less, a monstrosity of steel and rubber and cushy seats and decent Wi-Fi that would whisk her the three and some-odd hours to Houston.
Predictably, because it was raining, it stood to follow that she'd had to wait on a street corner for the Lyft van to inch toward her in the crazy traffic. Her cheap umbrella had turned inside out on the first strong gust of wind. When the van pulled up, she'd stepped off the curb and into a river of gutter water that filled her bootie. She'd had to stuff her suitcase into the back hatch with the other bags. And now she was squeezed between the van door and a large man, and rain was still trickling down her back and she was pretty sure she was not going to make her bus.
At least her seatmate smelled good. Spicy and a hint of evergreen. But his knee kept bumping her.
"First stop, Megabus!" Amal, the driver, announced cheerfully over the blast of his music.
The dog growled.
"Megabus?" the man next to Harper repeated under his breath in a tone that suggested he couldn't quite grasp the concept of a giant double-decker bus. What, was he taking a private jet or something? It happened to be a very quick way to get to Houston, thank you.
"Hush, Beanie," the woman in the shower cap said. Presumably to the dog. She reached into her pocket, then shoved something through the wires of the carrier. "Excuse me, can you turn that down?"
"We're going to be late, man!" the guy with the guitar shouted over the music. "Seriously, can you turn it down?"
"Your wish is my command," Amal said, and turned down the music. "I don't have a five-star rating by accident. I'm very good at my job," he said, jabbing a finger upward. "Everyone will get to their destinations on time, trust me." And then he turned left when he should have turned right. "You will not find another driver with ratings as high as mine. Five stars, every time. Trust."
No one said a word as they sat at a light, watching cars move at a snail's pace through the intersection.
Harper was increasingly aware of the press of her body against the long-limbed, hard-bodied man, mainly because he kept shifting, like he couldn't quite fit between her and Guitar Guy. His knee bumped against her leg again.
God, her feet were prunes. If she did make her bus, which she would bet one hundred bucks she would not, it would be a miserable ride to Houston.
"You sure you want to go this way?" Guitar Guy asked. "The Megabus station is over by the capitol, isn't it? If you go up Lamar, you can flip around to Gaudalupe."
"The app is telling me to go this way," Amal insisted, and pointed at the screen of his phone, perched like a lighthouse beacon squarely in the middle of the dash.
Harper managed to dislodge her arm from underneath the giant next to her and look at her watch. Amal's five-star rating for on-time deliveries notwithstanding, she was going to be late.
She tried to put her arm back where it went, but that was impossible. So she sat forward, curved like a banana over her overstuffed tote bag.
"Come on, man," Guitar Guy whined. "This is seriously the wrong way. I can't miss my flight."
"Well, I can't miss mine, either," the grandma in front said, as if Guitar Guy had somehow implied he was the only one who couldn't miss a flight.
"Problem is," Amal said, "the rain. Climate change is doing this. Never saw rain like this in Austin before global warming."
"That's a bunch of bullcrap," the woman in the front seat said. "There's no such thing as global warming."
The man next to Harper sighed softly under his breath. Harper felt his pain and would have sighed, too, had breathing not been so difficult in her current position.
"This traffic is worse than it is during South by Southwest," Amal said, referring to the annual arts festival. "I drove the Killers to their gig last year. Nice guys. Really nice guys. They had a guitar, too. It's kind of weird when you think about it, like, maybe, people should leave earlier."
Harper glanced around the interior of the vehicle in the dark. Guitar Guy was staring out the window. Grandma was keeping a steady stream of treats going into the pet carrier. The guy in the middle kept shifting around, trying to get comfortable. She wished she could get a look at him, to see what face went with those thighs, but it was dark, and it would be very obvious if she did turn to look at him, because it would require the use of her entire body.
Amal and Grandma kept up their argument about climate change as they crawled toward the bus depot. Harper glanced at her watch again. Was this worth it? The long hours? The completion of project after project with the hope that something would happen? Was Soren really going to promote her like he'd hinted, or was she a chump for believing him? She could almost hear the voice of her best friend, Olivia, in her head. "You're such a chump, Harper."
They were only three blocks from the bus depot now. Dammit, she was going to have to hoof it to make the bus and her boots were already squishy and her suitcase was heavy. The light turned green, and Amal turned onto the depot street. And stopped. Just up ahead were the red brake lights of many more cars. "This isn't good," he opined.
"Dude-turn around and come in from the east," Guitar Guy said.
"Yeah, I don't know," Amal said uncertainly. "The app says this way."
"I'm telling you, there is another way," Guitar Guy said, and pulled out his phone.
Harper silently agreed-there had to be another way. She reached into her tote and pulled out her phone, too. The guy in the middle dug his elbow into her side as he fished his phone out of his pocket. "Sorry," he muttered.
The three of them pulled up Google Maps and began searching for an alternative route.
"I'm turning around before the cops block off the whole street!" Amal suddenly shouted, and like a general taking charge, he gunned it, veering into the next lane. The two men smashed into Harper with the force of the car swinging left. And then Amal slammed on the brakes and they all lurched forward and phones went flying into the inky black of that van's interior.
"If you kill us, that's going to seriously fuck your five-star rating, man," Guitar Guy snapped. He shoved his guitar into the face of the guy in the middle so he could lean over and search for his phone.
The guy in the middle and Harper both reached down, groping around for phones on the floorboard, their elbows knocking into each other, their hands colliding more than once. Amal gassed the car again, tossing them backward, then sped up and tore around a corner. Beanie barked frantically for all of them.
"That's how you do it," Amal announced triumphantly over the dog.
"That is not how you do it," Grandma shouted. "We're all lucky to be alive right now!"
Harper's fingers touched something hard and square. She held it up-it was white. Her phone. The man next to her had found one, too, and was handing another one to Guitar Guy.
"Hey, Megabus, can you walk from here?" Amal asked, looking at Harper in his rearview. She quickly weighed her options: a block of unrelenting rain, or a block in Amal's van. "Yes."
He braked hard again, and the door panel slid open.
"Need help?" the man sitting next to her asked.
"Don't offer!" Guitar Guy said frantically. "We don't have time for chivalry."
"I've got it," Harper said into the dark. She emerged from the van like popcorn from a hot pan, grabbed her tote, and left her useless umbrella. She ran to the back and yanked her bag free of its wedge, hit the close button, and sprinted down the street, her tote bag and suitcase banging hard against her leg, rain slipping in her collar.
She reached the depot just as the Megabus was preparing to pull out. She threw herself into the opening before the driver could close the door. "I'm here!" she shouted triumphantly and handed over a soggy paper ticket. He scanned the bar code. "Your seat is on top."
Which had seemed like a great idea when she'd booked it. She'd imagined a leisurely drive high above the highway. Harper hauled herself up the stairs, dragging her bags, her ankle booties squishing with each step, her coat dripping. People grimaced and shot her dark looks as she tried to fit down the narrow aisle. "Sorry," she muttered more than once. "So sorry."
Her seat was near the back, because she had also thought that would be more relaxing. And she'd booked a window seat and now had the problem of a large woman as a seat mate who did not appear to want to stand to let her pass.
"Excuse me." Harper wiped a rivulet of rain from the side of her face. "That's my seat."
The woman looked at the seat, then at Harper. She tried to scooch her knees to one side. "Just climb over."
Was she kidding? Harper hadn't been on a jungle gym in close to thirty years. "I don't think I can." She winced apologetically and, with her head, indicated her bags.
This irritated the woman. She sighed loudly, grabbed onto the seat in front of her, and hauled herself up. She stepped into the aisle, knocking into Harper when she did.
Harper moved quickly. She shoved both bags onto the floorboard and fell into her seat. She managed to partially wedge one bag underneath her, feet propped on top of it. But the tote wouldn't fit, so she had to haul it up and hold it in her lap. The lady cast a look of disapproval over her, then climbed back into her seat, buckled herself in, and took the middle armrest.
Dammit. Now Harper had to pee. But she leaned back, resting against the headrest, and closed her eyes.
She should have waited until tomorrow. It wasn't as if her parents were eagerly anticipating her arrival. In fact, when Harper had texted her dad to tell him she'd been held up and couldn't come until tonight, he'd responded with one word. Great! When she texted them earlier and gave a time to expect her, her mother replied, We've gone out to dinner. You know where the key is.
Or maybe she should have left when she'd planned. Olivia thought Soren was amazingly good at always finding a last-minute emergency only Harper could handle.
"Why do you let him do you like that?" Olivia had asked her, annoyed that Harper was arriving a full day later than she'd promised. Olivia didn't understand how busy Harper's life had become since moving to Austin four years ago. She'd known when she accepted the position that it would be crazy and sacrifices would need to be made. Not that she minded-she had a goal and she was willing to work for it, which she'd tried to explain to Olivia.
"A goal shouldn't consume your life," Olivia had said, pouting.
Maybe. But it was her life to consume, and setting goals and achieving them made her happy. It blocked out all the other noise in life-every day was focused. Harper had ambition. She'd worked her way up at StreetSweets, Inc., and she planned on going the distance-chief executive officer. All she had to do was convince Soren he could leave the running of the company to her. She was miles from that, but she was gaining ground.
StreetSweets franchised food trucks specializing in coffee and pastries, like a Starbucks on wheels. But in the past couple of years, Soren had ventured into the fixed restaurant side of the ledger and had built three upscale coffeehouses in Austin.
Harper had started with the company six years ago. After graduating from Rice University with a degree in social sciences and business administration, she'd held a series of assistant management jobs, then had lucked into the position of district manager overseeing the StreetSweets food trucks in Houston. Her job had been to place the trailers for commerce, move them as necessary, and most important, turn a profit. She'd done more than turn a profit-the demand for StreetSweets food trucks was so good that Soren eventually added two more to the Houston fleet.
And then he'd offered her a job as vice president of development in Austin, a totally manufactured title to entice her to move. It had worked.