One of Portland’s hottest young baristas, Brady is famous for his java-topping flair, turning a regular cup of joe into a work of art. Every Wednesday—aka “Knit Night”—hordes of women and their needles descend on the coffeehouse, and Brady’s feeling the heat. Into the fray walks a tall, dark, and distractingly handsome stranger from New York. His name is Evren, and he’s the sexy nephew of Brady’s sweetest customer, the owner of the yarn shop down the street. He’s also got a killer smile, confident air, and masculine charm that’s tying Brady’s stomach in knots. The smitten barista can’t wait to see him at the next week’s gathering. But when he tries to ask Evren out, his plans unravel faster than an unfinished edge. If Brady hopes to warm up more than Evren’s coffee, he’ll have to find a way to untangle their feelings, get out of the friend zone, and form a close-knit bond that’s bound to last a lifetime…
Praise for the Portland Heat series
“Tremendously charming and sexy.”—RT Book Reviews on Served Hot, TOP PICK
“A really enjoyable story.”—Joyfully Jay on Baked Fresh
“Sometimes an author just gets everything right…Absolutely perfect.”—Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews on Delivered Fast
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By Annabeth Albert
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Annabeth Albert
All rights reserved.
"You're my favorite barista," the girl said with a self-conscious giggle. She was all of eighteen, if that, and reminded me of my sister, with her wispy hair and pale skin.
"Tonight I'm the only barista." I took a breath, kept my tone light, and didn't give in to the urge to sigh heavily.
I grabbed a mug to get her latte started. Wednesday nights were our busiest of the week, and I was stuck working alone because my coworker had called in sick. I hated Wednesdays, but I wasn't in a position to turn down hours. As it was, our boss had been slashing staff for the evening shifts, citing cost-cutting measures, so he hadn't seen fit to give me a backup.
"You're the best barista I've got, Brady. You can handle it," he'd said on the phone, in his usual offhand manner. He didn't like to be bothered with what he deemed trivial stuff. So I was alone to face Wednesday hell, better known as Knit Night, the weekly event in which a horde of women and their baskets of fibers descended on the coffee shop. But they all bought at least one drink and that meant tips in my jar.
And I was a damn fine barista, something I reminded myself as I put a little flair into making the girl's drink. She came here for this after all — the little bit of a show as I flipped the mug and steamed the milk, the latte-art smiley face I finished the drink with, the winning smile I dredged up as I handed it over. For an instant I made her feel like she was the sole focus of my attention instead of the line of traffic behind her. That was my skill, the one that was going to elevate me from Brady the barista to Brady the national-champion barista and alleviate a whole shitload of problems.
Buzz. From deep in my black apron pocket, my phone vibrated against my thigh. Hell. One of those problems was undoubtedly slipping into a crisis state, but I couldn't risk fishing the phone out with a line of customers. I'd have to hope that my sister could hold down the fort at home and that whatever it was could wait for a lull in the rush.
The next order was the girl's friend, another latte, another smiley face, but I made the mistake of glancing up at the door as I worked. The next customer to come in was the hottest guy I'd seen in a very long time. He had artfully styled black hair, the sort of purposefully messy cut that probably cost three digits and took twenty minutes in the morning to perfect. His slim-fitting jeans also looked designer — a rich color somewhere between brown and black and a subtle sheen to the fabric. A fancifully wrapped scarf over a close-fitting, long-sleeved shirt would probably get noticed by the Knit Night ladies, which was exactly what I did not want to have happen.
Our eyes met as I drew the latte art with a stirring stick, and he grinned widely at me. Gorgeous rose-pink lips and perfect white teeth straight out of a dental ad, and —
Frak me. I flubbed the smiley face, distracted by my efforts to memorize the handsome stranger. Rather than hand over a squiggly mess, I chucked the cup and started over. The girl didn't seem to care as she was deep in conversation with her friend at the end of the bar.
"Sorry about the wait," I said to the guy when it was finally his turn and he moved up to order. His intent gaze coupled with his polished appearance made me more conscious of my untrimmed beard and scruffy ponytail and made me wish I was wearing something a bit nicer than a faded People's Cup T-shirt.
"It is no problem," the guy said. He had a gorgeous voice — deep and polished, like a shiny piece of ebony. He had the fast speech and clipped consonants of an East Coast accent, but there was a lilt of something more exotic there, too. "I am happy to wait. Very peaceful in here."
Ha. I checked the clock as I tried to think of some flirty reply. The heavy glass door that led to Alberta Street swung open. It was 6:58 and Violet was first as usual, holding the door open for the herd of knitters. Not the steady trickle of a breakfast or lunch rush but twenty-plus women, all obsessed with punctuality and festooned with hats, scarves, and knit vests. Each ordered drinks for here with the sort of lengthy deliberation of someone who only ordered one coffee a week.
An older woman with the look and demeanor of a no-nonsense teacher, Violet made it her business to keep her fellow knitters in line. Knit Night was the brainchild of Iplik, the yarn store just down the street from us on Alberta, but Violet was the weekly event's unofficial hostess. As usual, she started giving her comrades orders about table rearrangement.
The People's Cup wasn't huge by any means, and Knit Night tended to fill the joint up. The space was longer than it was wide, with couches in front of the plate glass window, the coffee bar running along one wall, tables in the middle of the room, and a long wooden farmhouse bench and table for communal seating in the back of the room. The Knit Night ladies liked to turn the couches around and group the center tables together, creating a setup conducive to conversation but a tripping hazard for the rest of the patrons. And the arrangement resulted in an unholy din really, especially on nights when their ranks swelled to thirty or more.
"Remember to keep the aisle clear," I said to Violet and her minions. I'd warned them about creating tripping hazards with their knitting gear, but it was as futile as telling the twins and Jonas to keep their Legos in one area. Like my siblings, the ladies loved to spread out their projects.
"What'll it be?" I swung back to the register, no closer to having the right banter for the stranger, but no longer in a position to care. However, he'd stepped aside for Violet and her herbal tea order.
"I'll be back when the line clears," he said with a wink. He had a leather messenger bag, the sort meant to look like something Indiana Jones would haul around, for which one paid for every crinkle in the distressed finish. He'd probably come in wanting a quiet place to work.
He had the look and accent of a displaced New Yorker — working some cushy freelance job, no doubt. I liked thinking up little stories about my customers, but I didn't bother coming up with a lengthy one for him. He wouldn't be back once he saw how loud Knit Night got. And the ladies were likely to pester him about his intricately knit scarf with its pattern of interwoven cables. One time, I'd made the mistake of wearing a wool beanie I'd found for a buck at the thrift store. Every single knitter needed to remark on its construction. Dude was so going to be beating feet once Knit Night got underway.
Without a coworker, I was slammed, having to work both the register and the machine. While it kept me hopping, I didn't lose my rhythm until the triplets showed up.
They weren't really triplets. That's what I called them in my head — three middle-aged women who apparently texted each other every week to coordinate their outfits. This week it was cardigans — one yellow, one pink, one green — all in a similarly complex knit pattern. Each woman had long, grayish-brown hair, all carried identical hemp knitting bags, and they all were incapable of making a decision.
"Now, ladies, what are we ordering this week?" the first asked the other two. "I was thinking mochas?"
"Oh, I was thinking chai," said the second.
"Don't we want lattes?" the third asked. They couldn't each order to their own preference. No, they had to agree on that week's beverage, something they couldn't seem to do prior to holding up the line.
"Oh, yes," the first said. "We want some of Brady's art."
I immediately started thinking of what bit of whimsy would make the triplets happy. The smiley faces were better suited for the teen girls, but I could come up with something special just for the ladies. I was good at that, and the detail-oriented work itself always soothed me, even when the shop was busy. But what drove me batty was how the triplets were prone to changing their order as soon as I had it straight in my head.
Yellow gets skim.
Pink gets half caf.
Green gets picky.
Brady gets distracted by the sexy stranger texting on his shiny smartphone in the rear of the store ... No time for that. I moved quicker, trying to ignore the fact that my eyeballs wanted to track his every movement.
"No, wait." Yellow cardigan stopped me in midpour. "Did I remember to say decaf?"
"Nope." I dumped the cup, ready to start over.
"And mine is sugar-free, too," Pink added.
Buzz. My apron vibrated against my thigh again. Behind the triplets, the line was at least ten deep. Damn it, Renee. Just handle the kids. Please.
Finally I had the three of them set. Green took a sip, then held out the cup. "Is this coconut?"
"You said nondairy, nonsoy?" I took the cup back.
"I meant almond breve." She sighed, like I should have gotten that at first, and if I wasn't distracted by what was going on back home, I would have remembered to ask her which nondairy, nonsoy option she wanted.
"Here, let me try again." I had just finished her new drink, complete with a leaf design in the foam, when a loud crash rattled the whole shop.
A two-seat table had tipped over, sending two coffees flying and leaving two women in tears.
"My Fair Isle sweater!" The younger of the two, a pixie with platinum hair and a hook nose, held up a dripping garment with half a dozen colors of yarn, still on long needles connected by a cable. "I've worked six months on this!"
"I'm sorry!" The rainbow-haired young woman in a roller derby T-shirt had tears streaming down her face.
"You never look!" The first wasn't having any apology.
"Hey, my hat got ruined, too!"
"Ladies." I stepped out from behind the counter, grabbing the mop we stashed against the wall. I approached the mess and tried to inject some patience in my voice as I said, "Maybe if you didn't move the table —"
"And what business is it of yours?" Oh, Miss Fair Isle was pissed and she was turning it all on me and the other knitter.
"Brady! Can we order?" someone called from the line at the counter.
"Did you forget to sweeten this one?" Green cardigan triplet was apparently still not happy, but I ignored her to set the fallen two-top to rights. As I straightened, I noticed a pair of expensive-looking desert boots: the brown leather staples of all Portland hipster men. And as my gaze traveled upward, I took in the handsome stranger who had somehow managed to find his way right into the middle of the Knit Night chaos.
"Is this always so ... boisterous?" he said with a faint curl to his gorgeous full mouth.
"'Fraid so. Welcome to Knit Night." I finally gave in to that heavy sigh I'd been holding in for the last hour.
"It is not so bad." His lips curled as his gaze latched onto mine, not breaking away.
He didn't move, and I didn't scurry back to the counter like I should have. The air felt charged —
"Debbie. You ruined my Fair Isle! Two hundred dollars' worth of yarn! Ruined!" Anger. That's what the air was charged with. Fair Isle lady wasn't letting it go and was all up in the roller derby girl's personal space again.
Buzz. My leg vibrated yet again, this time the steady pulse of a missed call. This just wasn't my night. I had no idea when I'd get a chance to breathe, let alone check the latest message. A solo Knit Night was proving to be a special kind of hell. And, of course, the most attractive man I'd seen in weeks had to be dropped right into the middle of it. I gave him five more minutes before he scurried out to the chain place down the street. They were stealing enough of our business, why not him, too?
"Ladies. May I see?" Instead of fleeing, the man stepped closer to the arguing women.
To my surprise, the angry knitter handed over the soggy garment. "Evren! I thought I saw you over in the corner. You should have joined us! Is Mira with you?"
"I wouldn't miss it." One of my favorite customers stepped out of the line for coffee. The owner of Iplik, the yarn store, she was a neighborhood institution unto herself. And she'd been sorely missed the last few Knit Nights. I'd heard a rumor about some health problems, and I was very glad to see her, even if she did look thinner and frailer, with an elegant knit turban on her head. She was one of the very few people who knew my situation with the kids, and I still got all warm at the memory of the little knit ornaments she'd given me for them at the holidays.
"And what is all this fuss?" she asked.
I loved her lilting Turkish accent, and I realized that was what I'd heard in the man's voice — New York with just a hint of Turkish.
"There's no fuss," Miss Fair Isle said, flipping her long blond hair. She was too busy making goo-goo eyes at Evren. Not that I blamed her. He was handling her soggy yarn balls with such deftness and care that it made certain parts of me take notice. He had long, elegant fingers with blunt tips. Capable grace.
"I think this can be fixed," Evren pronounced, and the whole group exhaled. "Now, why don't we let the man get back to his coffee?"
"Evren, this is Brady, my favorite barista," Mira introduced me with a flourish, emerald tunic top rippling. "Brady, this is my nephew. He's come to ... help with the store."
"That's great." I forced my voice to be bright and cheery, just like hers. But I knew his arrival couldn't be a good thing — her health must have been even worse than the rumors. "You must be the famous nephew she's always raving about."
Truthfully, I'd pictured someone younger from Mira's stories about her favorite relative. Evren was probably a bit older than me, perhaps in his late twenties. And if I was honest, I'd imagined someone diminutive and round, like Mira was before her illness, not tall, confident, and composed. And hot as hell.
"Perhaps Hala Mira exaggerates." He patted her arm before turning his attention to the bickering knitters. By the time I was back behind the counter, he had the two women sitting next to each other again, laughing, and he'd stowed the soggy mess of knitting in a shopping bag to "fix later." That pronouncement had drawn much awe from the Knit Night crowd.
There had been the odd dude at a Knit Night before, hipster types with scraggly-looking bits of scarf and an eye on a girlfriend or potential girlfriend, but I was still impressed when Evren opened his bag and pulled out a half-knit sock on the needles and a completed sock, which was passed around and oohed and aahed over by the ladies. It was indeed a nice piece of work — at least three colors that I could see, and some sort of complicated pattern that had him pulling out charts and diagrams.
His hands were so sexy that I kept spying on him as I finished the rest of the initial Knit Night rush. I liked watching his long, elegant fingers move rapidly with the teeny needles, liked how he gestured as he passed his scarf around, and really liked when he flipped his ridiculously thick, straight hair off his forehead with a flick of his hand. Wonder what else he's good at with those hands ...
With the scarf on the table, his long neck was exposed, and he had the sort of prominent Adam's apple and faint scruff that never failed to turn me on. Maybe after Knit Night, I could say a few words —
Buzz. Hell. Finally, I had enough breathing space at the counter that I could check the texts, keeping the phone hidden behind the counter.
I discovered a series of texts from Renee, each more dire than the last.
Madison's stomach is upset. Should she eat dinner?
She's puking! All over the rug! Help!
Fever's 102!!!! Brady!!! What do I dooooooo? :(:(:(
I could hear Renee's wail just from the text. Yeah, eighteen wasn't a baby anymore and we could all do with fewer hysterics from her, but she was still munchkin-size, with a sweet voice and a sensitive attitude. It was hard to get those memories of us as little kids out of my head. I'd been five when she was born and I'd been the type of older brother who fell hard for the family's new addition — the tiny blond-haired toddler I'd begged my mom to let me push on the baby swing. The too-damn-cheerful kindergartner who'd held my hand so tight on the way home from school every day.
Renee and I had both grown up a lot faster than we'd wanted to when our mother and her second husband died last year, and now we were doing our best to raise our younger half siblings together.
Trying to keep the phone low and discreet, I frantically typed back.
Calm down. Children's fever reducer in the medicine cabinet. Top shelf. I circled the dose on the box for the twins. Give that. Home soon. Promise.
Excerpted from Knit Tight by Annabeth Albert. Copyright © 2016 Annabeth Albert. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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